Down To The Wire


The phrase down to the wire means that there is 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.

1. A close one
2. Neck and neck
3. Photo-finish

Horse rider, down to the wire.

The Origin Of ‘Down To The Wire’

It’s believed this expression originates from horse racing, but why? Because in horse races, a wire was often hung across the finish line in order to help determine the winner. This was especially useful in races that were very close towards the end. Thus, as the riders 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 at that time, 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.

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Sentence Examples

  • Our school’s fastest runners are competing in a race and so far they look evenly matched; so I think this race will come down to the wire.
  • The trivia game I played with my family came to the wire; my two brothers were contending for first place.

Similar Examples:

  • They are both neck and neck, so I have no idea who will come out on top.
  • This match will be a photo-finish!

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