e.g. “I was roped into doing it”

From what I can find on the web, “know the ropes” originates either from sailing or theatre. “On the ropes” may originate from boxing.

The one article I found related to “roped into” explained that in Ancient Greece, slaves were sent to the streets with ropes dipped in paint to mark any citizens who were refusing to vote. This article didn’t have any sources, and while Ancient Greece was a strange place, I’m still skeptical.

Does anyone have a source for the origin of the phrase “roped into”?

  • 2
    I’ve always assumed it was more akin to lassooing (or perhaps saving someone who’d fallen overboard) – someone literally ties a rope around you and pulls you in. Oct 5, 2019 at 23:56
  • Cf. roper, which is con-artist cant for the member of the crew who brings the mark (i.e., target sucker) into the scheme.
    – Robusto
    Oct 6, 2019 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


According to GDpS the figurative usage of rope in(to) derives from a specific peasant activity:

Schele de Vere, Georgia Scenes (1872): ‘Rope in, to, in the sense of gathering in, enlisting, is a bold metaphor derived from the common practice of gathering the cut hay of a meadow by means of a long rope, drawn by a horse’.(orig. US)

  1. to swindle or cheat; to ensnare a victim into a (crooked) gambling game; thus the rope, the snare that is used

    • 1849: Georgia Scenes in Schele De Vere (1872) 629: I’ll lay bank, if you must have a game, but I’ll make one condition: no roping in! I won’t have it.
  2. to involve, to include, to force someone to be involved:

    • 1871 [US] L.H. Bagg Four Years at Yale 47: Rope in, to join one’s self to a set or party uninvited, to attach any one to the same unceremoniously or without his consent.

rope Entymonline

to rope (someone or something) in is from 1848.

To rope in or into is to cause somebody to adopt a certain position, belief, or course of action, like twisting somebody's arm.

And from the OED:

to rope in originally U.S.

  • transitive. To ensnare, to lure or decoy (a criminal's victim); to take (a person) into custody. Also intransitive: to ensnare or decoy
    a person.

As in early use:

  • 1840 Daily Picayune (New Orleans) 5 Sept. 2 Robert Brown, Pat Carlin, and F. Quin, supposed to have roped in a chicken importer—no
    proof of the fact.

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