A fine line
⭕ A fine line, also a thin line, in this sense, fine means thin. So a fine line is a very thin line, used figuratively to refer to a small difference or distinction between things: There’s a fine line between testing someone and entrapping them. Sometimes there’s only a very fine line between genius and madness. Usually, one of the things is good or OK, and the other one is bad. The bad one comes last.
- There’s a thin line between courage and foolishness.
- There’s a fine line between enthusiasm and fanaticism.
- There’s a very fine line between personal ambition and ruthlessness.
- There’s a fine line between helping your kids with their homework and doing it for them.
“There’s a very fine line between pleasure and pain. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other.” ― E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey
“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” ― Oscar Levant
⭕ The expression to walk a fine line is often used to mean “to achieve or maintain a balance” or “to be very close to two different ideas or attitudes at the same time”:
- He walked the fine line between confidence and cockiness.
- Her family walks a fine line between modernity and fundamentalism.
- Teachers walk a fine line of trust between their students and what their parents need to know.
- As a comedian, I’m always walking that fine line between humour and sarcasm (= finding a balance between them).
Also “walk a thin line” means to be in danger (or close to danger). Like walking on a thin rope, one small misstep and it’s sayonara.
⭕ A related expression is “Tread a fine line” When you tread (or walk) a fine line, you are trying to keep your balance between two alternatives, rather as if you were walking carefully along a narrow tightrope. Neighbours have to tread a fine line between being friendly and being nosy.
⭕ Another expression “toe the line” that means something rather different from the previous idioms. There is some confusion between ‘toe the line’ and the frequently seen misspelling ‘tow the line’. The idiom is toe the line, not tow the line! An error that’s all too easy to make when in a hurry.
⭕ The phrase “toe the line” is equivalent to “toe the mark,” both of which mean to conform to a rule or a standard. Most likely derived from putting one’s toe to a line, mark. To do what you are ordered or expected to do and .
- Strict parents make their children toe the line.
- The new director will make us toe the line, I’m sure.
- He might not like the rules but he’ll toe the line just to avoid trouble.
- Not everyone was happy with the plan, but most of us toed the line.