A draw is a match/game/contest that ends with no outright winner, or both teams or players having the same score. The more usual term in North America is a tie, whereas a draw is usual elsewhere. A stalemate is another similar word used as a term in chess, when one side has no legal moves to make which results in a draw.

Note: In cricket and some other sports, a tie and a draw have different meanings.

It was first attested in 1610, in drawn match, per Etymonline and OED. Here is the citation from OED:

1610    [implied in: D. Carleton Let. 17 June in R. F. Williams Birch's Court & Times James I (1848) (modernized text) I. 115    It concluded, as it is many times in a cock pit, with a drawn match; for nothing was in the end put to the question. (at drawn adj. 7)].

A draw as a noun was first attested in 1823, used for a backgammon or draughts game; and the earlier term is a draw game (which is now chiefly regional) from 1699 per OED. Here are the citations from OED:

1823    ‘J. Bee’ Slang 70    A draw in backgammon or draughts, is the final state of the game when neither party can win.

1699    A. Boyer Royal Dict.    Draw-game, Refait, Partie à refaire.

Per both Etymonline and OED, the origin is uncertain but it may be connected to withdraw.

Meaning "game or contest that ends without a winner," is attested first in drawn match (1610s), but the signification is uncertain origin; some speculate it is from withdraw. Hence, as a verb, "to leave (a game, etc.) undecided," from 1837. - Etymonline

The semantic development of this sense is not entirely clear, but may have been via an unattested original sense ‘to withdraw from, abandon, give up (a contest)’. - OED

Would it be possible to find a more clear connection or explanation for the origin of draw for this sense? Is it really from withdraw?

  • How old is draw (noun or verb) in the sense of "drawing names", meaning to select participants randomly?
    – Laurel
    Dec 13, 2022 at 14:29
  • @Laurel Of the verb draw, the sense "To select (one or more items) at random from a number of similar items, in order to determine which of a group of people will receive something (such as a prize) or do something (such as military service)" is from a1400; and the sense "To select (a person or thing) by drawing lots; to win (something) in a draw or lottery." is from 1564 per OED. Of the noun draw, the sense "The action or an act of choosing by drawing lots; a lottery, raffle." is from 1841 per OED.
    – ermanen
    Dec 13, 2022 at 14:47
  • 2

3 Answers 3


Semantic contiguity, that is, metonymy (as opposed to semantic similarity, metaphoricity), produces the sense of "to tie a game or contest" from "to [with-]draw stakes", and so develops the sense of 'to draw' in OED 70b (1664, earliest "directly illustrative" quotation) from the earlier 70a (1600):

To withdraw (something), esp. to withdraw (a horse) from a race. Frequently in earlier sporting use: to withdraw (a bet or wager): see also to draw stakes at STAKE n.2 1d

The quotation (1610) in OED that does not directly illustrate sense 70b of 'to draw' indirectly illustrates the sense with "drawn match", which denotes that the stakes wagered in a contest of cocks are withdrawn after a fight in which neither bird wins.

In The royall game of chesse-play (1656, EEBO, my emphasis), Gioachino Greco details two types of draw in chess:

A dead Game is when only the two Kings are left: yea most Gamesters will draw the stakes, when they have but a Knight or Bishop left with their King, and the enemy only his King: For it is not possible then to give a Mate by force.

The quote uses the full phrase, "draw the stakes", in the sense of "withdraw their wagers" and so implies that the game will be abandoned. Likewise in The famous game of chesse-play (1614, EEBO, my emphasis), Arthur Saul mentions that the chess game is "given over" when the stake is withdrawn:

Imagine that two were a playing, and that many men on both sides were lost and no odes [odds] in the men of either side, so that the game were indifferent, that then I say, one of the gamsters should giue ouer the game and draw his stake, the other at this seeming to be a grieued, thinking his men standeth better then the others which hath giuen ouer, he saith, had you playd out the game I should haue wonne it, & the other replying, demandeth what hee will lay more one the game, the party agrieued vpon this offereth a crowne more, that hee will winne the Mate, now here is a condition, which if hee performe not he looseth both his first and last stake: The way for him that taketh any man vpon such condition, is still to change, and to bring it vnto a dead game, and so shall he this way winne the stakes, by reason the other had tyed himselfe by obligation to giue the Mate, wherefore let any one take heed how he entreth into such condition; for who so doth it giueth the other aduantage, whether it be at the beginning of the mate, or after, it is all one.

What this answer either has not yet explained, or perhaps left unsaid, is that the OED editorial insertion remarked in the question ("The semantic development of this sense is not entirely clear etc.") does not seem to take into account the earlier use of 'to draw' (70a) in the sense of "to withdraw (a bet or wager)". I cannot answer for the OED editor's intended meaning of "original sense", but it seems "entirely clear" that sense 70b developed from sense 70a, and that the semantic development was by way of contiguity, that is, metonymy. More simply put (but minimizing the complexities of lexical semantics), 'to [with-]draw stakes' shortened into 'to draw [a game, contest, match]', as the latter describes the practical effect if not the particular action of the former.

  • Great explanation JEL! It definitely cleared up everything for me.
    – ermanen
    Dec 19, 2022 at 18:25

From the various sources I consulted, one of the most likely origins for the term "draw"–meaning a match or game that finishes with an equal score–originated in warfare terminology.

The excerpt below for "drawn" conjures images of sword fights and the barbaric penalty, hang drawn and quartered, that awaited men found guilty of high treason whereas women were burned at the stake.

From 1786, The Spelling and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language by Rev. John Bentick A.M.


Drawn, a. unsheathed, evicerated, equal

To Draw

From 1828, A Dictionary of the English Language - Volume 1, by Samuel Johnson and John Walker

The dictionary entry for the verb "to draw"

To DRAW, (draw) v.a. pret. drew; part.pass. drawn
to leave a fight unfinished, as a drawn battle;


DRAWN, (drawn) part. Collected;
pulled out; equal; where each party takes his own stake; open; put aside, or unclosed; eviscerated; […]

From 1818, in an earlier edition of the aforementioned text, the bellicose theme of the verb draw is reiterated but Johnson also refers to removing stakes (wagers, bets) for its past participle form.

To DRAW [emphasis in bold mine]
36. To withdraw from the combat; to leave a fight unfinished; as, when both sides claim the victory, it is called a drawn battle.
3. Equal; where each party takes his own stake.

Below is the source and the words by Joseph Addison, whom Johnson partially cited, in his entry for drawn.

Drawn Game

The Present State of War, and the necessity of an Augmentation, Consider'd
“At present, if we make a Drawn Game of it, or procure but moderate advantages, we are in a condition which every British heart must tremble at the thought of.” (1708)

An earlier instance of drawn game is found in the following publication:

The Roman History Written in Latine Faithfully Done Into English by Titus Livius (printed 1686)

But the Consul met them by the way, where a fierce Battel was fought between them, with uncertain event; and though it were indeed but a drawn Game, yet the rumor went that the Romans were worsted, because several Persons of Quality, and Colonels, and one Commissary-General of their side were slain, and especially, for that the Consul himself was wounded. Fame, which always makes bad News worse, had so augmented the loss, that the Senate were in no little pain and perplexity, and resolved to have a Dictator chosen; nor did any Man doubt but Papirius Cursor, the greatest Warrior of that Age, ought to be the Man;…

Drawn Battle

From 1733 The History of England - Vol 2 by Rapin de Thoyras (second edition)

I believe this suffices to shew, it was a drawn Battle, which afforded no real matter of triumph either to the King or the Parliament. Indeed, three or four days after the battle, the King took Banbury Castle where was a Garrison of eight Hundred Foot, and a Troop of Horse. But if the Circumstances of taking this Place be well considered, it will be found, that it was far from being a consequence or effect of victory.

From a collection of letters, printed in 1718, the publication of Philosophical Letters Between the Late Learned Mr. Ray and Several of His Ingenious Correspondents, Natives and Foreigners, contains one missive dated 1698/9

This Day a large Tyger was baited by 3 Bear Dogs, one after another. The first Dog he kill'd; the second was a Match for him, and sometimes he had the better, sometimes the Dog; but the battle was at last drawn, and neither car'd for engaging further. The third Dog had likewise sometimes the better, and sometimes the worst of it; and it came also to a drawn battle. But the wisest Dog of all was a fourth, that neither by fair Means, nor foul, could be brought to go within reach of the Tyger, who was chain'd in the middle of in the Middle of a large Cock pit. The owner got about 300l. for this Show, the best seats being a Guinea, and the worst 5s. The Tyger used his Paws very much to cuff his Adversaries with, and sometimes would exert his Claws, but not often; using his jaws most, and aiming at under, or upper Sides of the Neck, where Wounds are dangerous. […]

I hope you will pardon this tedious Narration, because I am apt to think ’tis very rare that such a Battle happens, or such a fine Tyger is seen here. I am, &c

The following instances of drawn match are of a far less violent nature, the last of which appears to support the OED's speculation that draw (meaning tie) is derived from withdraw

Drawn Match

Rupertismus By John Cleveland (1651)

With their wide listening mouth from the great Peers
That ran away in triumph. Such a foe
Can make them victors in their overthrow;
Where providence and valour meet in one,
Courage so poised with circumspection
That he revives the quarrell once againe
Of the Soules throne, whether in heart or braine,
And leaves it a drawn match: whose fervour can
Hatch him, whom Nature poach'd but Half a Man
His trumpet, like the angel's at the last,
Makes the soul rise by a miraculous blast.

Rushworth's Dialogues. Or, the Judgement of Common Sense in the Choyce of Religion (1654)
By William Rushworth

(as some expresse, if their mind be truly reported: For I desire not to Search other mens books for their defects, if their vertues entice me not to read them) So far as to render the contradictories equally and indifferently ballanc'd, leaving it a drawn match, whether the mysteries of Christian Religion, on which depends the worlds Salvation, be true or fals.

New Academy by Richard Brome (1659)

Cash  Your father Lightfoot, you forget again.
  There’s a drawn match made*: for the monsieurs
  Have ta’en their money again and you have still
  Your maidenheads, I hope. But to have heard
  The coil† they kept, the wrangle†, and the stir†,
  And how the young blades put the old one to’t,
  Would ha’ perplexed you more* than keeping of
  Your maidenheads from men you love.

Clicking on the first asterisk, the page provides this insight:

The failure to bring things to a conclusion means that there was no 'winner' and Strigood has therefore lost his fee for providing the young French gallants with English virgins to deflower. See OED drawn, ppl. a 3: Of a battle or match: Undecided.

The origin of this usage is said to be uncertain, but here the possibility suggested of derivation from 'withdrawn' is appropriate. Finding the young women to be trapped and without intention of becoming prostitutes, the gallants withdraw.

  • 1
    Great research Mari-Lou! I trust the users on this website for etymology questions! It is great to see a detailed etymological development of the word where it started in violent times, and carried over to games and contests. Wish I could accept two answers, as the other answer is great also; but I've upvoted definitely.
    – ermanen
    Dec 19, 2022 at 18:35

Would it be possible to find a more clear connection or explanation for the origin of draw for this sense?

You seem to be asking EL&U to express an opinion on the possibilities.

I hope that I am expressing a majority view when, in the light of the shortage of pre-17th century texts, I say "It would be a very small possibility given what resources the OED has to hand and yet has failed to find a definitive answer."

  • I'm just asking nicely. I could say "I'm looking for a clear connection or explanation for the origin". There is the follow-up question "Is it really from withdraw?" also. Additionally, OED is not always and doesn't have to be the final point.
    – ermanen
    Dec 13, 2022 at 19:03
  • To be honest, it doesn't matter how nicely the question is phrased. OED is not always and doesn't have to be the final point. -- It probably does here. "This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, March 2022" In the light of the shortage of pre-17th century texts, and the accessibility of them, what do you think the chances are?
    – Greybeard
    Dec 13, 2022 at 19:53
  • 1
    The chances are out there. Some users here answered etymology questions where OED couldn't answer; or they found more comprehensive explanation with additional sources/findings. If there isn't an answer after some time, I would accept the lack of further info; but I would appreciate more details on why it is the case also. Maybe, there are details about the lack of connection or else etymologically. Also, it is not an opinion-based question but there can be etymological conjectures based on additional findings. I believe I'm asking a good and informative question at least worthy of EL&U.
    – ermanen
    Dec 13, 2022 at 20:08
  • 2
    @Greybeard given what I've seen some users produce for references and quotations, I honestly would not be at all surprised if someone on here does one-up the OED.
    – Hellion
    Dec 13, 2022 at 21:10
  • @ermanen your answer about shortage of 17th century texts I said pre -17th century and it was accessibility. -- Would it be possible to find a more clear connection or explanation for the origin of draw for this sense? I am not sure how otherwise to interpret this.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 14, 2022 at 16:24

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