Down to the Wire (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Down to the Wire"?

The term "down to the wire" means until the last moment. It is typically used to describe a contest and means that the result will be undecided until the last moment.
Down to the Wire (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • This game will go down to the wire.
  • Both candidates are proving popular. This election result is going down to the wire.
  • We worked down to the wire, but we hit the deadline.
This idiom originates from horse racing in the 19th century, when the finish line of a race was literally a piece of wire across the track. When a race went "down to the wire," it meant that the result was unknown until the wire was breached.

Competing Theory

"Down to the wire" refers to car tyres. Once the rubber tread has worn down, a wire mesh becomes visible. If a tyre is "down to the wire," it is at the very end of its possible life. (Detractors of this theory highlight that the term was used before tyres were moulded on a wire-mesh base.)

Competing Theory

There could be many ways to defuse a bomb, but once all of those ways have been exhausted, it comes "down to the wire." Do you cut the red one or the blue one? This is the final decision in the outcome being known. (Detractors of this theory highlight that the term was used before electronically detonated bombs existed.)

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