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on the ropes

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On the verge of defeat or collapse, helpless, as in They acknowledged that their campaign was on the ropes, and they could not possibly win the election. This expression, alluding to a boxer forced back to the ropes of the ring and leaning against them for support, has been used figuratively since the mid-1900s.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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