Tough row to hoe

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]

7 thoughts on “Tough row to hoe”

  1. A long rode to ho.
    It is not mispronounced it is misspelled.
    Rode is a length of chain and rope that is put out from the ship to the anchor. A long rode is required when it is windy or stormy. To pull a rope on a ship is to ho. Hence the term “Heave Ho” the group will advance on the rope on the command Heave and pull on the command Ho. If it is stormy and or windy the long rode to ho is hard work.

  2. I like its a “Long Rode to Ho”. As in a long rode “the length of rope between and anchor and a ship is a rode” “Ho” is the pulling of the rope when the Officer commands heave the crew pulls chanting “ho”. It is only a hard and lengthy task when the wind or current is strong.

  3. Roads are much more common than rows as more people drive than garden…so the new phrase may be more applicable except I guess you don’t hoe roads….hmm.

  4. “Road to hoe is a misspelling. For some reason, it’s especially common in sports writing ,,,:
    Consider the source.


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