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What is the origin of stretch as it is used in the following sentence?

We should eat before the final stretch.

In this context, final stretch is used to mean 'last segment', or 'the effort needed before the work will be done'. Is this use present in dictionaries?

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    It's more likely to be "stretch of road", from railway and highway construction. It can also refer to long distance travel (mostly on highways and mostly by trucks). It's a common chunk from the LIFE IS A JOURNEY metaphor theme, subchunk A JOB IS A JOURNEY. Sep 9, 2023 at 13:58
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    Take the sentence in what context? Context is everything; resistance is futile.
    – Lambie
    Sep 9, 2023 at 15:49
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    There was a similar question about the meaning of last stretch.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 9, 2023 at 21:33

3 Answers 3

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During the Middle English period, the verb strecchen had as one of its meanings, "to go, walk, proceed forward" (see the MED). Modern English noun stretch comes from Middle English noun streche, which was back-formed from the verb. The final stretch or last stretch was the last bit of traveling you had to do, and that has also come to be used figuratively for any last bit of effort that still lies ahead.

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The meaning depends on context:

the home/final stretch:

  • a) the last part of a track before the end of a race
  • b) the last part of an activity, trip, or process

(Longman Dictionary)

According to the following source the expression derives from horse racing:

The expression originates from horse racing, but its usage has spread widely, to the point that the analogy is now much more common than the original term.

In horse racing, the straight areas between the turns of a race track are known as "stretches" or "straightaways." Racing announcer David Johnson is known for his trademark exclamation, "and down the stretch they come!" During a race, horses may run around the track several times. When they pass the last turn and head down the track toward the finish line, they are said to be on the "final stretch" or "home stretch." The term thus refers not to part of the race track, but to part of the track at a certain point in the race.

(www.languagehumanities.org)

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English simplex words beginning with /str/ have a very specific phonosemantic sense, specifically an embodied image of a Walking Man. Stretch falls under the "Leg/Walk" subcategory (#2 on the handout), and the phrase stretch (of road, of driving, of the race, etc) fits the senses already articulated here.

Other members of the "Leg/Walk" category include strut stroll stride straddle straggle stray

The rest are in the link.

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    I'm baffled both by what any of this is supposed to mean and what any of this has to do with the question asked
    – Atario
    Sep 10, 2023 at 9:18
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    I think it means that English words that begin with that /str/ consonant cluster derive ultimately from a constellation of Proto-Germanic words all related in some way to walking, or moving forward.
    – TimR
    Sep 10, 2023 at 15:20
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    Not at all only Proto-Germanic. And etymology for assonances comes from way earlier than PIE. Sep 10, 2023 at 16:01

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