If someone is “on the ropes,” it means they are in a desperate or difficult situation. In other words, they are having a tough time.
Example: I’ve been sick all week. My main symptoms are coughing, a runny nose, and my appetite is low. I guess you could say that my health has been on the ropes lately, but I am finally starting to feel better.
Synonyms / Similar Phrases:
1. Between a rock and a hard place
2. In a jam
3. In a pickle
4. In hot water
Where Does ‘On The Ropes’ Come From?
The phrase on the ropes possibly comes from boxing. How so? Well, boxers typically fight in a boxing ring, which is square in shape. Along the edges of the ring are ropes. Usually, a boxer doesn’t want to be backed up against the ropes because it could impair their movement.
However, a boxer might take a heavy punch during a match that knocks them off balance. To help stabilize themselves, they might grab onto the ropes. Or, if they were knocked down by a punch, they might use the ropes to help them get back on their feet. Either way, a boxer that is literally on the ropes is probably in a bad spot. And that’s what this idiom means today—being in a difficult situation.
Anyways, the earliest appearance of this saying that I could find is from the year 1820. It’s used in Blackwood’s Magazine from this year as a boxing term:
“At the close of one round, when Bill had got his adversary on the ropes, he went over him in a summerset, in a way that we do not not remember to have seen practiced either before or since.”
Here is an example of this expression in a sentence.
- Tom’s job is on the ropes because of how frequently he shows up late to work.
- I find myself in a pickle because the power to my house has been out for hours and I’m worried that the food in my fridge will spoil soon.
- I accidentally broke a piece of art at the museum and now I am in hot water with the staff working there.
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