The mix up of words and phrases, especially homophones, are common occurrences in the written English. Even the most accomplished of writers battle with the problem of choosing the right expression to weave together words to express his or her thoughts to make sense or to be understood by the audience. The reader is often misled to accept the words or phrases, though wrongly used, as the standard and it keep recycling to the embarrassment of the masters and purists of the language. As we noted before now, words or phrases that sound the same but mean different things are the writers’ albatross.
But for those writers, journalists, and reporters who double check words they put down on paper and take pains to go through the dictionary and other reference materials to be sure of their facts and figures, the less mistake they make. This class of writers are never in a hurry, even though they have deadlines to meet. One among the several expressions that confuses the writer is the statement “To toe the line,” that shares similarity with the word “tow,” same sound but different meaning and that is why the question arises. Is it to tow the line or toe the line? Homophone, going by the dictionary definition, is a word which sounds the same as another word but is different in spelling or meaning.
The words “tow” and “toe” are typical examples of homophones that should not confuse the diligent and decent writer. The word “toe” is a noun, the five digits, in human, at the end of each foot whose main function is to aid balance and walking. The verb “tow” on the other hand, is to pull something. For example, to pull a ship, car or caravan with rope or chain. Having identified the differences, the writer is now left with the option of using the right word to inform the reader, logically and plainly without confusing the reader. My advice for the writer is that when in doubt of the correct usage or engagement of the word or phrase, he or she should consult the dictionary or any other suitable reference material for clarification. To “toe the line,” to explain further, is the correct usage in this context.
To “toe the line” is to act according to the rules or keep faith with given guidelines. One can therefore correctly write, for instance “The government has compelled every citizen to toe the line by observing the non-pharmaceutical protocol of wearing facemask and physical distancing to combat the deadly coronavirus pandemic.” Conversely, the word and verb “tow,” as earlier stated, is to pull a truck, car with rope or chain. One can also correctly write, for example, “To tow the damaged car from Lagos to Ibadan would cost a fortune.
” The mix of the words “toe” and “tow” hinders effective communication and make mockery of the writer, journalist and reporter. It exposes him or her as a beginner or what others may refer to as amateur writer who should be guided and trained to conform. In concluding this week English lesson, the unpopular phrase “point accusing fingers at” has also been rephrased, pruned or shortened by the English purist to read “point fingers at.” However, I noticed that some of our media houses are still stuck to the dysfunctional, stale and un-English statement, “point accusing fingers at.” Now note the correct and current usage and stick to it “point fingers at.”