On the ropes

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On the ropes is one of many idioms with origins in the sporting world. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the phrase on the ropes, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

On the ropes means defeated or very near to defeat, ruined, close to giving up. The idiom on the ropes comes from the world of boxing. A boxing ring is enclosed by large, heavy ropes. When a boxer has backed his opponent into the ropes, that opponent has no means of escape. His ability to punch and defend himself is restricted. In addition, a boxer who is near collapse may grab the ropes in order to support himself and stay on his feet. The term on the ropes to mean a boxer who is in trouble and near collapse was first used in the early 1800s. On the ropes moved into mainstream English as an idiom in the 1920s, a time when many sports terms became everyday idioms.


With darkness falling on July 2, the Union Army was “on the ropes as much as it had ever been,” according to the author. (The Auburn Citizen)

Just 15 days ago, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was on the ropes, battered by huge street protests and facing discontent within his own ranks and possible economic sanctions amid signs that he had formally turned into a dictator. (The Miami Herald)

A Paisley boxing coach has vowed to turn his life around after driving and drugs convictions left him on the ropes. (The Scottish Daily Record)