Posted by: Jack Henry | February 18, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Row or Road?

Hi Kara,

I often hear the phase “road to hoe” and always thought that was strange. I saw it in print for the first time and thought it even stranger. With many famers in my family, “row to hoe” makes much more sense as a person would hoe weeds along a row of crops. It is back-breaking work, which makes it hard and seemingly endless if a full field is expected to be weeded.

So, are some people just using it wrong? And did it come from farming?



Dear Deborah,

I come from families in the steel and stone trades, so I’ve never used the terms “road or row to hoe,” but your logic behind “row” makes a lot of sense. First, for those not familiar with this phrase, “a tough (or hard) row to hoe” means someone is facing a difficult situation and has a lot of problems to deal with.

And indeed, you are correct with both of your assumptions: the correct version is “row to hoe,” and it is from farming. From our friends at the Grammarist:

In farming and gardening, to hoe a row is to turn a line of soil for the planting of seeds or bulbs. This is the origin of the idiom tough row to hoe, which describes a large, challenging task. A literal tough row to hoe might be one that is long or that involves hoeing dirt with lots of rocks or roots.

A figurative tough row to hoe is any large undertaking that is especially difficult.

Road to hoe is a misspelling. For some reason, it’s especially common in sports writing—for example:

§ They have a significantly tougher road to hoe as their schedule sees them go to Baltimore next week. [Daily

§ They’ve got a long way to go, a tough road to hoe. [Bleacher

§ With Carolina poised to make another run at Atlanta next season, a weakened Florida may have a tough road to hoe in Columbia next fall. [Garnet and Black Attack]

The misspelling creates some funny imagery (imagine a team of football players, in uniform, hoeing a road), but careful readers will recognize the spelling as wrong.

So there you are, right on all accounts! Excellent job!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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