Knuckle Down (Phrase) – Meaning & Origin


If someone says they’re going to “knuckle down,” that means they are going to get serious.

Example: The gutters on Baldwin’s house are chalk full of leaves. As a result, they don’t drain particularly well, so they need a proper cleaning. Baldwin knows he needs to clean them, but he’s delayed doing so for weeks because he hates working outdoors in the cold. However, his spouse finally told him that he needs to “knuckle down and get it over with.”​ (In other words, he needed to take this more seriously and do it.)

Synonyms: buckle down, pull out all the stops, time to get serious

The Phrase - Knuckle Down
Kids playing marbles, with one of them having his knuckles down.

What’s The Origin of “Knuckle Down”?

The phrase “knuckle down” may originate from the game of marbles. How so? Let’s briefly look at how the game of marbles is played to see why that is:

In marbles, aiming and precision is the key to winning. During the game, players will have some of their marbles sitting on the ground. Each player takes turns trying to hit their opponent’s marbles. This is done by rolling the marble along the ground. Now, here’s the part about the phrase’s possible origin:

When a player is getting ready to roll their marble, they get their hand ready by making a fist with it and then putting their knuckles down to the ground. Afterwards, they take a marble and rest it on their curled index finger. Once they are finished lining up the shot, they flick their thumb outward, propelling the marble forward in the direction they were aiming. Of course, it’s not necessary to flick your marbles like this, there are different ways it can be done. However, it’s from this knuckle down-style of marble flicking that the phrase possibly got its start.

​Anyways, this phrase goes back to at least the 18th century. It’s written in a book called A New General English Dictionary; Perculiarly calculated for the Use and Improvement Of such as are unacquainted with the Learned Languages, first worked on by Thomas Dyche. Then later, it was finished by William Pardon around the year 1740. A part of the book defines the words knuckle and knuckle down like so:

“To stoop, bend, yield, comply with, or submit to; and is a particular phrase used by lads, at a play called taw, wherein they frequently say, Knuckle down to your taw, or fix your hand exactly in the place where your marble lies.”

For context, in the quote a “taw” can refer to a marble.

Example Sentences

Here are some sentence examples of this phrase:

  • After placing last at his school’s swimming competition, Jeff decided he needed to knuckle down for the next race.

Similar Examples:

  • It’s time to buckle down so I can win this game of Chess.
  • The Hawks need to pull out all the stops if they’re to ink out a win here.
  • No more messing around, it’s time to get serious.

Note: The origin of certain common idioms cannot be said with a certainty. Yep, it’s unfortunate, but don’t worry! We will still list any plausible sounding origin theories on the phrase’s page.
In addition to that, there will also be old quotes of the saying being used. These are there to help you see how far a particular phrase dates back in time.

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