Understanding the Idiom: "cross swords" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • (to have a dispute with someone): lock horns

The Origin of “Cross Swords”

The phrase “cross swords” dates back to medieval times when knights would engage in battles with one another using swords as their primary weapon. When two knights were about to fight, they would cross their swords as a sign of respect before engaging in combat. Over time, this gesture came to symbolize conflict or disagreement between two individuals.

Usage of “Cross Swords” Today

Today, the idiom “cross swords” is used to describe any situation where two people or groups are in conflict with each other. It can refer to verbal arguments or physical altercations and is often used in political or business contexts. For example, you might hear someone say that two politicians are crossing swords over a controversial issue or that two companies are crossing swords in a legal battle.

  • The idiom can also be used more broadly to describe any situation where there is tension or conflict.
  • It’s important to note that while the phrase may suggest violence or aggression, it doesn’t necessarily imply physical harm.
  • In fact, it’s often used figuratively to describe disagreements between friends or colleagues.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “cross swords”

The idiom “cross swords” is a common expression used in English to describe a situation where two people are in disagreement or conflict with one another. The phrase has its roots in medieval times when knights would engage in sword fights as a means of settling disputes.

During this period, it was considered an honorable act for two knights to cross their swords before engaging in battle. This gesture symbolized respect for one’s opponent and demonstrated that both parties were willing to fight fairly.

Over time, the phrase “cross swords” began to be used more figuratively to describe any situation where two individuals or groups found themselves at odds with each other. Today, the idiom is still commonly used in everyday language and can refer to anything from a heated argument between friends to a political showdown between nations.

Understanding the origins and historical context of this idiom can provide insight into how language evolves over time and how cultural practices can influence our use of language today.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “cross swords”

When it comes to using the idiom “cross swords,” there are many variations that can be employed to convey a similar meaning. This phrase is often used to describe a situation where two people or groups are in conflict or disagreement with each other. It can also refer to a more literal interpretation, such as two individuals engaging in sword fighting.

One common variation of this idiom is “lock horns.” This phrase has a similar meaning and refers to two parties who are engaged in an intense argument or dispute. Another variation is “butt heads,” which implies that both parties are stubborn and unwilling to compromise.

In some cases, the idiom may be modified slightly depending on the context in which it is being used. For example, if someone wants to emphasize the intensity of a conflict, they may say that the parties involved were “crossing swords fiercely” or “engaged in fierce swordplay.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “cross swords”


There are several synonyms that can be used interchangeably with “cross swords.” These include:

– Lock horns

– Clash

– Engage in battle

– Face off

– Square off

Each of these phrases conveys a similar meaning to “cross swords,” emphasizing the idea of a confrontation or conflict between two opposing forces.


On the other hand, there are also antonyms that convey the opposite meaning of “cross swords.” Some examples include:

– Make peace

– Collaborate

– Cooperate

– Work together

These phrases emphasize cooperation and working together rather than engaging in conflict or confrontation.

Cultural Insights

The idiom “cross swords” has its roots in medieval times when knights would engage in sword fights as a way to resolve disputes. Today, it is still commonly used but has taken on broader meanings beyond physical combat. In some cultures, such as Japan’s samurai culture, sword fighting was seen as an art form and a way to demonstrate honor and skill.

Understanding the cultural context behind idioms like “cross swords” can help non-native speakers better understand their usage and significance within English-speaking communities.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “cross swords”

Exercise 1: Fill in the blanks

In this exercise, you will be given a sentence with a blank space where “cross swords” should fit. Your task is to fill in the blank with an appropriate form of the idiom.

Example: The two politicians ____________ during the debate last night.

Answer: The two politicians crossed swords during the debate last night.

1. The CEO and CFO ____________ over budget cuts.

2. My parents always seem to ____________ whenever they talk about politics.

3. The two lawyers ____________ in court yesterday.

4. I don’t want to ____________ with my boss about this issue.

5. It’s not uncommon for siblings to ____________ when they have different opinions.

Exercise 2: Create your own sentences

In this exercise, you will create your own sentences using “cross swords”. Try using different tenses and forms of the idiom to make your sentences more varied and interesting.

Example: I crossed swords with my neighbor over our property line.

1. Have you ever crossed swords with someone at work?

2. She was eager to cross swords with her opponent on stage.

3. They had been crossing swords for years before finally settling their differences.

4. We shouldn’t cross swords on every little thing that comes up.

5. He knew he would have to cross swords with his father if he wanted to pursue his dreams.

Verb Forms: Meaning:
Cross swords To have an argument or a fight with someone.
Crossed swords Past tense of “cross swords”.
Crossing swords Present participle of “cross swords”.
Note: The idiom “cross swords” is often used in a figurative sense, meaning to engage in a verbal or intellectual battle rather than a physical one.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “cross swords”

When using idioms in a language that is not your native tongue, it can be easy to make mistakes. The idiom “cross swords” is no exception. While this phrase may seem straightforward, there are several common mistakes that non-native speakers should avoid.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that “cross swords” does not refer to actual physical sword fighting. Instead, it means to have an argument or conflict with someone. This mistake can lead to confusion and miscommunication if not understood correctly.

Another mistake is using the idiom in inappropriate situations. For example, saying “I crossed swords with my boss over what we should have for lunch” would sound strange and out of place. It’s important to use idioms in appropriate contexts so as not to confuse or offend others.

Additionally, some people make the mistake of assuming that “cross swords” always implies a negative interaction. However, this is not necessarily true – it simply means a disagreement or debate has taken place.

Finally, it’s crucial to remember that idioms often vary between different regions and cultures. What may be commonly used in one country could be completely unfamiliar in another. Therefore, when using the idiom “cross swords”, it’s important to consider who you’re speaking with and their cultural background.

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