In farming and gardening, to hoe a row is to turn a line of soil for the planting of seeds or bulbs. This is the origin of the idiom tough row to hoe, which describes a large, challenging task. A literal tough row to hoe might be one that is long or that involves hoeing dirt with lots of rocks or roots. A figurative tough row to hoe is any large undertaking that is especially difficult.
Road to hoe is a misspelling. For some reason, it’s especially common in sports writing—for example:
They have a significantly tougher road to hoe as their schedule sees them go to Baltimore next week. [Daily Norseman]
They’ve got a long way to go, a tough road to hoe. [Bleacher Report]
With Carolina poised to make another run at Atlanta next season, a weakened Florida may have a tough road to hoe in Columbia next fall. [Garnet and Black Attack]
The misspelling creates some funny imagery (imagine a team of football players, in uniform, hoeing a road), but careful readers will recognize the spelling as wrong.
And it’s been a tough row to hoe for the artist, who started performing at age 10, but was briefly hospitalized during her grueling “Idol” run from complications resulting from her diabetes. [San Francisco Examiner]
While conventional farmers have a quiver full of chemical arrows to battle the invasion of weeds and pests, the organic farmer has a tougher row to hoe. [NY Times]
Indications are that Japan will have a tough row to hoe in trying to advance its position at COP16 through Dec. 10. [Daily Yomiuri Online]