Tie the Knot (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Tie the Knot"?

The term "tie the knot" means to get married.
Tie the Knot (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • I'm not ready to tie the knot. I want the travel the world.
  • Do you think they've tied the knot because she's pregnant?
  • Jack and Jill will tie the knot in a quiet yet elegant ceremony.
Knots have been associated with marriage since at least the early 13th century. As a knot is the joining of two ropes with a strong bond, it is easy to understand why a knot has long been a metaphor for marriage. Today, lots of cultures use the joining of ropes or ribbons in their wedding ceremonies.

The first known example of a knot being used for marriage comes from a Middle English version of "The Legend of St. Katherine" (circa 1225), which features the following line:
  • "Swa ye cnotte is icnut bituhhen unc tweien."
  • ("Cnotte" is Middle English for knot. This translates as "As we are fastened and tied together, so the knot is knitted between us two.")
Some 500 years later (1717), it features in the English poet Matthew Prior's poem "Alma; or, The Progress of the Mind":
  • "So to the priest their case they tell: He ties the knot."
  • (Matthew Prior wrote "Alma" during his 2-year (1715-17) impeachment by Robert Walpole, who is regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. "Alma" was Prior's longest humorous poem, showing he maintained his cheerful philosophy while kept in close custody.)
In 1811, the English lexicographer Francis Grose used "knot" with a specific reference to marriage:
  • "He has tied a knot with his tongue [vows], that he cannot untie with his teeth: that is, he is married."
  • (This features in Grose's work "The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.")
Grammatically speaking "to tie the knot" is a metaphor. It has been used in English for centuries - almost a millennium - and it is showing no signs of fading from the English language. In fact, "tie the knot" is growing in popularity (evidence).
  • When I do tie the knot, it will be one time, for good. (Actor Shemar Moore)

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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