Throw In the Towel

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Also: Throw in the sponge

Meaning of Idiom 'Throw in the Towel'

To throw in the towel means to quit or give up, admitting defeat. 2,1


"He had applied to ten colleges and was not accepted to any. He was ready to throw in the towel when one of his top choices accepted him."

"My aunt and uncle's marriage has been in trouble for years. They finally decided to throw in the towel."

"The manager was afraid his fighter was going to be seriously injured, so he threw in the towel."


This idiom derives from the earliest days of boxing, when fighters fought bare-knuckled, without gloves. A sponge was used to mop away sweat or blood from the boxer's face. When it seemed defeat was certain or a fighter was so bloodied he could not continue to fight, his manager or trainer would throw the often bloody sponge into the ring to signal that he wanted to concede defeat and stop the fight. Later, when towels came to be used, the towels would be thrown into the ring for the same purpose. This idiom is still used in boxing, although referees are in charge of stopping fights to protect boxers who are at risk of permanent injury. The expression has long since passed into general usage. The sponge version is archaic and never heard today. 3

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News - 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.

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