row » road

Chiefly in:   a tough road to hoe

Variant(s):  a tough road to hold, a tough row to hold, a tough road to row

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • With only eight matches remaining, the Lions knew it was a tough road to hoe. (link)
  • I feel I let down the fans, the Yankees and my teammates. I accept full responsibility. Most of all to the fans, I am sorry. I understand how they feel. I understand it’s going to be a tough road to hoe but I am going to work my butt off to get back their support. (New York Post, February 11, 2005)
  • A serious parent in our culture today has a hard road to hoe in raising our children to be disciplined, loving, compassionate people. (Honolulu Star Bulletin, July 12, 1999)
  • IT is only part of the effort. Getting people to buy in when you deploy new technology, to change their practices, that’s a tough road to hoe. (link)
  • My family will pray that your Dad wins this battle. It will be a tough road to hold for your entire family, but you will all make it through this. (CRM News, 04 Jun 2002)
  • The biggest task the group faced was trying to get grass growing back on the fairways, something they have been able to accomplish. Even in late January, the fairways were in ideal shape. It was no easy chore and still continues to be a tough row to hold as they continue to battle salt problems with their water supply system. (link)
  • There’s little doubt the Marine City girls basketball team has a tough road to row when it opens district play Monday at Croswell-Lexington High School. (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Joshua Macy at Logomacy (link)

This is a multifaceted eggcorn that appears in many guises. The original expression is _a tough_ (or _hard_) _row to hoe_, from hoeing one’s row (with an actual tool) while working in the field.

The most common reshaping of this idiom is the transformation of _row_ into _road_. Obviously, hoeing a road is even harder.

More rarely, we find an additional substitution: _hoe_ is replaced with _hold_. And occasionally, _row_ is kept but the _hoe_>_hold_ substitution takes place; or the assimilation in /r/ creates an entirely switched-around _tough road to row_.

| link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/02/12 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by mr_walker , 2005/03/06 at 2:08 am

    “The original expression is a tough (or hard) _road_ to hoe, from hoeing one’s row (with an actual tool) while working in the field.”

    hmm, typo or thinko? ; )

  2. 2

    Commentary by mr_walker , 2005/03/06 at 2:11 am

    for the record, i grew up on a farm and had to hoe far too many tough rows in my day.

  3. 3

    Commentary by r. booth , 2005/03/15 at 12:25 am

    I grew up in a farming community and know a little about hoeing rows. As kids, we would spread out accross the rows of soy beans; each kid would take three rows, the one he was walking in; the one to his left and the one to his right. This worked fine until you reached the end of the field, where the group would have to turn and go back down the field. At this poin the term “row to hoe” becomes very valid. The smartest kids, you see, would pick the row that had the least weeds (which you could see above the soy beans), leaving the hard “rows to hoe” to those that weren’t as bright or as quick.

  4. 4

    Commentary by Chris Waigl , 2005/03/31 at 11:16 pm

    Typo, always typo. Better correct late than never, right?

  5. 5

    Commentary by Tim McDaniel , 2005/08/28 at 9:50 pm… has a US political cartoon from 1840. The caption is “A HARD ROAD TO HOE!”

    Given the early date, given that it was a time when a large majority of Americans had worked on farms, and given the prominence of an editorial cartoon, I wonder whether “hard road to hoe” might in fact be the original.

  6. 6

    Commentary by Charles W. Stanton , 2006/11/02 at 11:12 pm

    Turning now to typos and homophones, I imagine that a “hard road to ho” conveys an even more challenging meaning.

    “Gotta keep my pimpin’ hand strong…” (seen on a t-shirt)

  7. 7

    Commentary by Karen , 2006/11/14 at 2:33 pm

    I had an English teacher who confessed that as a young lad, he thought the expression was “a tough road aho,” as in, a difficult path ahead. Like Land Ho, I guess.

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