The tie that binds – meaning?

The tie that binds / the ties that bind

The above is a well known phrase, originally from a hymn and used since in a film title, a Bruce Springsteen song and a novel, amongst other things.

But what would you say it actually means? I can guess that it’s about relationships, or family, your roots as it were, but would you say it’s a positive message?

I don’t think it really has a value, at least not in the US. Most people use it non-idiomatically in my experience. If I saw it used as an idiom I would assume it was a reference to marriage or family.

The oldest reference I could find was the Don Williams song from 1974.

The Ties That Bind

Knowing, you stand by me through good and bad
Makes all the difference in my life
Day by day, sweetheart, I find
These are the ties that bind

When we got married in an Episcopal ceremony about 15 years ago, during the rehearsal our priest demonstrated how he would remove his stole (the scarf-like vestment that priests wear) and wrap it around our intertwined hands as he performed the ceremony. He explained that this was an ancient tradition and the source of the phrase “the ties that bind” - he was tying our hands together, binding us in matrimony.

I always took that with a bit of salt since I never had heard it anywhere else, but I never looked into it to see if it was true or not.

I Walk The Line lyrics:

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
No idea what it means though.

It is a positive message - about our links to other people that uplift, encourage and support us - and it goes back even further:

You’re off by about two centuries. The words appear in a hymn written by John Fawcett in 1782, Blest be the Tie that Binds.

Since this is about song lyrics, let’s move it to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

You should have shouted, “Cite?”

I always thought it meant something like keep your promises to those who mean the most to you, or something like that.

I always just thought it was a euphemism for marriage. Similar to “ball and chain” but less derogatory.

Since I grew up singing that hymn, I’ve never had a problem understanding the meaning, especially in light of the following verses. It basically means that our shared faith joins us in fellowship…we care for each other, just as members of a family do, and that tie cannot be broken, even when we are apart from one another. The love of Christ and our fellow man is the tie that binds us together into the family of God. You can extrapolate that to marriage, to family, to any community. The sense of community that links us to each other is a blessing and a strength.

And in the historical context of that hymn, it’s a bond of fellowship within a church:

In other words, Fawcett couldn’t bear to part with his current congregation – the ties that bound him to his current flock.

The lyrics (4th verse in what I’ve seen published) even speak of the strength of those ties to survive parting if parting is needed:

“If there’s anyone here who objects to this baseless anecdote, speak now or forever hold your peace…Now, here is a rod smaller than your thumb with which you may beat your wife.”

I protest! It wasn’t about song lyrics, it was about the phrase! It just happens to appear in some songs.

“Bless’d be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.”

Metaphorically, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. A “tie,” as in something that holds things together, that “binds,” that is, holds things together. Is that clear enough?

Since in the OP you ask for opinions about its meaning, if not CS it would go in IMHO, where I also considered moving it. Either way, it’s not a GQ.

I have assumed it was metaphorical, like “blood ties” - and could speak to family, community, church, organization. I would assume criminal organizations like the mafia could invoke it, too - i.e., I have assumed it could have positive and negative connotations…

The earliest instance I found for the phrase “the ties that bind” is in Homer’s The Odyssey; Odysseus is describing an exchange of meaningful gifts that seal and bind a friendship.

Ah, but is that what Homer wrote, or is it an English idiom used by the translator to replace/translate the Greek one? Idioms are the second-hardest thing to translate; the Spanish edition of “Tales of the Long Bow” my mother has includes a preface by the translator and a Translator’s Note between 1-line and 2/3 of a page at the beginning of each story, explaining the idiom the story is based on. First one that doesn’t make sense in Spanish is the book title itself.