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What with this new election for mayor, all the TV stations are talking about so-and-so "throwing his hat in the ring." What does that have to do with running for office?

-- Voter, San Diego

Long, long ago in the wild, wild West (and elsewhere, actually), prize fighting was all the rage. They were relatively informal, free-for-all, slug-till-you-drop affairs. One way you indicated your interest in participating was by throwing your hat into the boxing ring. Then you hoped in the end you still had a head to put it on. According to our usual gaggle of word nerds, the first "official" and widely publicized use of the metaphor was, appropriately, by that man's man Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, when he declared himself ready to duke it out with Taft for the presidency. Boxing also gives us the appropriate closer for a fist fight or a political campaign. When the losers "throw in the towel," they're referring to the signal commonly given when a fighter was too beat up to continue the bout. His trainer, second, doctor, or mother would throw a towel into the ring as a sign of defeat.

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