What Does Toe the Line Mean?

To Toe the Line Meaning

Definition: Follow the rules; obey orders.

The phrase has the same meaning as the phrase to toe the mark.

Origin of Toe the Line

This expression dates back to the 1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary cites The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan by “H. Bull-Us” as the first use in 1813.

  • He began to think it was high time to tie the mark.

This expression comes from track, where people literally put their toes behind the starting line before a race.

In other words, they “toe the line.”

Obviously, the expression is no longer limited to track and field. It is commonly used in politics, business, education, and other industries.

Examples of Toe the Line

toeing the line meaningIn the conversation below, two friends are graduating from high school.

Scott: Our graduation is just minutes away! Are you excited?

Tony: Yeah, I’m super excited. I can’t wait for freedom from all those high school rules. They were smothering me. I was suffocating in school. I’m ready for my adult life to start.

Scott: Me too! I couldn’t keep toeing the line anymore. I need to think for myself and have the ability to be creative. This mindless rule following hinders my personal growth.

Tony: I still want to do something wild while on stage accepting my diploma. I’m going to do a cartwheel!

Scott: I already told you that you have to toe the line a little bit longer. They won’t give you your diploma if you do something like that.

toe to the lineTwo coworkers use the expression while talking at an end-of-the-year party.

Richard: This party isn’t very much fun. I thought it was supposed to be an opportunity for us to relax! There are even more rules at this party than there are during our normal time at work.

Miranda: It’s not that bad.

Richard: No, I’m serious! The boss saw me take a drink ticket from my friend who wasn’t going to use his. He yelled at me and told me I was breaking the rules. Apparently, it’s a big problem because employees are only allowed two drinks.

Miranda: Ah, that’s too bad.

Richard: He actually told me that I needed to toe the line! This is the worst party ever.

More Examples

The first example is about one woman disobeying the law by driving with her feet on the steering wheel.

This driver won’t toe the line.

  • A woman a Pennsylvania highway was caught driving using her foot to steer while her hands and her eyes were locked on her phone to send text messages. –New York Daily News

The second example is about how one designer is accusing another of trademark infringement.

An up-and-coming shoe designer wants luxury brand Louis Vuitton to toe the line. –New York Daily News


The phrase toe the line means to do what the person in charge says or to behave according to the rules.