It Takes Two to Tango – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Ever heard the phrase “it takes two to tango”? Well, if you’ve ever been to a dance class, you know the phrase is quite literal. But in the wide world of idioms, it’s not just about dancing. It’s a nuanced phrase used to explain situations far beyond the dance floor. Let’s shimmy our way through this phrase to understand its meaning, origin, and how to use it without having two left feet.

What Is Tango?

It Takes Two to Tango Idiom Origin Meaning

Before we delve into the idiom, let’s answer the question: what is tango? Originating in the late 19th century along the River Plate or Rio de la Plata, the natural border between Argentina and Uruguay, tango is a partner dance known for its dramatic flair and intricate footwork.

It’s a dance that requires two participants to move in a synchronized, passionate display. This basic principle of the dance forms the foundation of our idiom.

It Takes Two to Tango Meaning Explained

When someone says it takes two to tango, they mean that certain activities or arguments require the active participation of two parties, whether that’s people or groups.

We often use it to convey that both parties involved in a conflict are equally responsible for it. Basically, it’s the English language’s catchy way of saying, “You’re not innocent either, buddy,” or “I didn’t do this alone.”

You’ll sometimes see the phrase thrown around when a young woman finds out she’s got an unwanted pregnancy, and no one acknowledges that the man had a hand in it, too.

Can “It Takes Two to Tango” Mean Something Positive?

Despite its common use in conflict situations, it takes two to tango isn’t exclusively for negative situations. You can also use it for any situation requiring cooperation, teamwork or mutual understanding.

For instance, in a successful relationship, it truly takes two to tango because both parties need to work together to maintain the level of harmony and respect needed.

Origin of It Takes Two to Tango

This idiom stepped onto the scene, quite literally, with a song. “Takes Two to Tango” was a popular song written by composers Al Hoffman and Dick Manning. Recorded by Pearl Bailey in 1952, the phrase swept into common use, capturing the imagination of the English-speaking world with its catchy tune and super relatable concept.

Other Ways to Say It Takes Two to Tango

If you want to keep your language fresh, here are a few alternative ways to express the idea that it takes two to tango.

  • Mutual effort is needed
  • It’s a two-way street
  • It’s a joint responsibility
  • Both parties are involved
  • It’s a dual effort

It Takes Two to Tango Examples in a Sentence

It Takes Two to Tango Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Ready to really dance? Here are just a handful of examples showing how to use the phrase in a sentence.

  • When both tech companies claimed the other one was at fault, the judge simply shook her head and said, “It takes two to tango.”
  • In a successful partnership of any kind, it takes two to tango. Both must be equally committed in all aspects.
  • The pregnancy isn’t entirely Amy’s fault. Remember, it literally takes two to tango.
  • The peace negotiation failed because it takes two to tango, and one party was not willing to compromise an inch.

Keep Dancing!

And there you have it, folks! The common expression it takes two to tango is not only a catchy line from a song but also a versatile idiom you can use to illustrate various situations. Whether you’re highlighting the shared responsibility in a conflict or the mutual effort needed in a partnership, this idiom is your go-to phrase.