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Specifically - what kind of bow? I assume it refers to an archer's bow, but I guess it could relate to a bow used to play a stringed instrument (like a violin).

Also, I've heard it used in the sense of an additional skill, as well as a new achievement - I'm not sure that it makes so much sense in the latter but that probably depends on the origin...

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These are not official resources, so I'm leaving this as a comment rather than an answer: see here and here. Whether this is folk etymology or not, do take it with a grain of salt until we find a more competent resource. –  RegDwigнt Sep 16 '10 at 16:27
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

John Ayto gives the answer in his book named "From the horse's mouth: Oxford dictionary of English idioms":

have a second string to your bow: have an alternative resource that you can make use of if the first one fails. British.

Info: This is a metaphor from archery [emphasis added]; related expressions include have several strings to your bow and add another string to your bow. Second string can also be used on its own to mean simply "an alternative resource or course of action".

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If you don't have a second string, you may up playing second fiddle...(sorry). –  Brian Hooper Sep 16 '10 at 20:04
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