tug of war


noun

an athletic contest between two teams at opposite ends of a rope, each team trying to drag the other over a line.
a hard-fought, critical struggle for supremacy.

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Origin of tug of war

1670–80 for def 2; 1875–80 for def 1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Idioms and Phrases with tug of war

tug of war

A struggle for supremacy, as in There's a constant political tug of war between those who favor giving more power to the states and those who want a strong federal government. Although there is an athletic contest also so named, in which participants holding either end of a rope try to pull each other across a dividing line, the present usage, first recorded in 1677, predates it by about two centuries. The noun tug itself means “a strenuous contest between two sides,” and war refers to fighting, either physical or figurative.

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