I found this expression in a news article:

When Vermont’s first coronavirus case was detected last month, it took two state health workers a day to track down 13 people who came into contact with that single patient. They put them under quarantine and started monitoring for symptoms. No one else became sick.

“It was a tidy bow,” recalled Daniel Daltry, one of the two health officers who did the work.

Within days, new cases were “coming in like dominoes,” Daltry said. By late March, his team was racing on a single day to trace the contacts of 12 patients, when an additional 30 cases landed on their desk.

I tried but couldn't find any dictionary entry or good explanation for the phrase. I guess, from the context, it could mean something manageable or doable, but otherwise I have no clue.

This is my first post on this forum. Any help would be appreciated.

1 Answer 1


My guess is that it's an allusion to putting a tidy bow on a present: that is to say, they got everything "wrapped up" (finished) nicely.

I can find very few references to this phrase outside of literal tidy bows, but one similar (but not identical) usage is here, in which the writer seemingly uses it to refer to getting their task (in this case, a poem) done:

In their haste to put a tidy bow at the end of the poem, the poet wraps it up with a cliché.

All that said, I've never personally heard anyone use this phrase before.

  • 1
    Google ngram has no occurrences of tidy bow. Your explanation is clear, analogically convincing and likely correct.
    – Anton
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 14:12
  • 1
    Yeah it does. Ngram and "all wrapped up with a tidy bow", in quotes, has 468 hits on Google. I can't place it but I've heard it, and there's half a chance I've said it.
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 15:10
  • Probably correct, and with a real attempt to provide supporting evidence. 'Wrapped up' is of course a well-known metaphor. 'Coming in like dominoes' is more dubious. Covered in spots? Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 17:01

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