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The intuitive answer to me would be to "emphasize" something. This explanation seems different from others I've seen, however, that say it means to "finish something". Help on this?

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    I don't find anything difficult to understand in the question, and don't know why it has been marked down. "different from other" is not standard, but seems perfectly clear to me.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:22
  • The two different meanings for this are probably regional.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 15, 2011 at 17:23

3 Answers 3

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The idiom does have a different meaning from "emphasize".

draw a line under something

if you draw a line under something, it is finished and you do not think about it again: Let's draw a line under the whole episode and try to continue our work in a more positive frame of mind.

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  • I guess it's like doing a "check" on your checklist? or maybe cross it out?
    – stonebird
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:15
  • Don't, however, confuse it with the similar phrase draw the line (at something). This means "to set a limit at something; to decide when a limit has been reached." You can make as much noise as you want, but I draw the line at fighting. It's hard to keep young people under control, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
    – Daniel
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:15
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    Now, I don't think it's either a "check" (I would say a "tick" in the UK) or crossing it out. The image for me is an account book, or perhaps a record of incidents. When one event is finished with you draw a line right across the page to mark the end of that and a fresh start.
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:20
  • Well done, Colin!
    – stonebird
    Jul 15, 2011 at 15:33
  • @ColinFine I believe it's also a security thing, you draw a line through any blank space remaining on the page to prevent anyone adding something further. Similar to writing a cheque, so no one can add extra figures.
    – Mynamite
    Aug 17, 2013 at 10:37
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Think of it like writing down a column of figures to add. When it's time to finish, you "draw a line under it", do the arithmetic and move on to the next one.

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It's an expression which originated as a term used by Accountants, in preparing the accounts -- especially the profit-and-loss account -- for any trading business.

Drawing a line under it is literally what the Accountant does, on the printed page, to rule-off the end of one trading period. At the end of the trading year it's traditional to draw a line across the page to mark the end of a trading period, and that marks the point up to which the trading accounts of the business are prepared for that period.

By literally drawing a line under the end of the year's trading, it physically separates one trading period from the next: the annual accounts are then prepared up to the marked point, with any later income or outgoings assigned to the following period.

Over time, it's become customary to use this expression in far wider contexts than simply business accounts, and the expression now denotes any situation where someone wishes to speak of making a fresh start.

In accountancy, each new annual trading period represented a fresh start for the business, whether the previous 12 months had been good or bad for it. This concept of ruling off events in the past and starting again is nowadays a form of common usage in a wide range of activities, many entirely unconnected to business finance.

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