Down To The Wire


A tense situation in a competition where the outcome is only clear at or near the end.

Example: There’s only a minute left in this basketball game and the score is all tied up. Thus, it could be said that this game is coming down to the wire, because it’s difficult to tell who will win.

Synonyms/Related: neck and neck, photo-finish, a close one

Horse rider, down to the wire.

Origin Of ‘Down To The Wire’

This expression is believed to have originated from horse racing. Here is why: 

In horse racing, a wire was hung up over the finish line to help determine a winner. This was especially handy in cases where the races were very close. So then, as the riders rapidly approached the finish line, they could be described as coming down to the wire, quite literally. 

According to World Wide Words, the phrase is used in Scribner’s Magazine in July, 1889. There’s a story within the magazine titled ‘How the Derby Was Won’, and it provides some details about a horse race that recently took place, saying:

“As the end of the stand was reached Timarch worked up to Petrel, and the two raced down to the wire, cheered on by the applause of the spectators. They ended the first half mile of the race head and head, passing lapped together under the wire, and beginning in earnest the mile which was yet to be traversed.”

So while the phrase looks to have started with horse races, it later went on to become the idiom it is today.

Tip: If you want to see more common phrases starting with the letter “D”, then give that list a look. You can learn the meaning of hundreds of sayings!

Sentence Examples

  • The game clock running down and both teams are all tied up. This is an exciting game that’s going to come down to the wire!
  • It came to the wire in a grueling battle of strength between two heavy weight-lifting champions.

Note: The quotes you see that contain a phrase are not meant to taken as the source of the phrase. The purpose of these quotes is simply to give an idea on how far back the saying goes. The idiom on this page, for example, it’s earliest appearance is 1889. So it’s origin is at least that old.

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