Understanding the Idiom: "get off the mark" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The phrase “get off the mark” refers to making progress towards a goal or objective. It is often used in sports when a player scores their first point or goal, but it can also be used in other contexts as well. For example, if someone starts working on a project and completes their first task successfully, they could be said to have gotten off the mark.

The origin of this idiom is believed to come from horse racing. In horse racing, horses start by standing still at a designated spot called the starting line or “mark”. When the race begins, they must run past this point before they can continue on with the race. Therefore, getting off the mark meant that a horse had started running and was making progress towards winning.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “get off the mark”

The idiom “get off the mark” is a commonly used phrase in English language. It is often used to describe someone who has started something or made progress towards a goal. However, not many people know about its origins and historical context.

The origin of this idiom dates back to the early days of horse racing when horses were required to start from a stationary position behind a line called ‘the mark’. The term ‘getting off the mark’ referred to when a horse successfully crossed this line at the beginning of a race. This was an important moment for both jockeys and spectators as it marked the beginning of the race and set things in motion.

Over time, this term became more widely used outside of horse racing circles and began to be applied to other situations where someone was starting something new or making progress towards their goals. Today, it is commonly used in sports, business, education, and everyday life.

Understanding the historical context behind idioms like “get off the mark” can help us appreciate their significance and use them more effectively in our own communication. So next time you hear someone say they are getting off the mark on a project or task, remember that you are using an idiom with roots dating back centuries!

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “get off the mark”

One common way to use this idiom is in sports. In athletics or horse racing, getting off the mark means starting a race or event successfully. For example, if a runner gets off the mark quickly at the start of a race, they have a better chance of winning.

Another context where this idiom is used is in business or finance. Here, getting off the mark refers to making progress towards achieving a goal or target. For instance, if a company launches a new product and manages to sell some units right away, they can be said to have gotten off the mark.

Variations of this idiom include “off and running,” which means that someone has started something with enthusiasm and energy. Another variation is “off to a flying start,” which implies that someone has begun something extremely successfully.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “get off the mark”


Some common synonyms for “get off the mark” include:

  • Get started
  • Begin
  • Commence
  • Kick-off
  • Initiate
  • Launch
  • Embark on


On the other hand, some antonyms of “get off the mark” are:

  • Halt/Stop/End – indicating that progress has been halted or stopped completely.
  • Falter/Stumble – indicating that there have been setbacks or difficulties in getting started.

Cultural Insights

The origin of this idiom is unclear but it is commonly used in sports such as horse racing and cricket where horses and batsmen need to get off their marks before they can start running or hitting. In business settings, it may be used when discussing launching a new product or initiative. It can also be used more informally in everyday conversations when someone wants to indicate that they are finally starting something they have been putting off for a while.

Synonym Antonym
Kick-off Halt
Begin Falter
Commence Stumble
Launch Stop
Embark on End

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “get off the mark”

To begin with, let’s start with a simple exercise. Look at the following sentences and try to identify which ones use the idiom “get off the mark”:

1. He finally got his business idea off the ground.

2. She got her first job after months of searching.

3. The team struggled to get off the mark in their first game of the season.

4. I need to get started on my homework before it gets too late.

Did you identify sentence number 3 as using the idiom “get off the mark”? If so, great job! This sentence means that a team had difficulty scoring points or achieving success at the beginning of a competition or project.

Now let’s move on to another exercise. In this activity, you will need to create your own sentences using different forms of “get off the mark”. For example:

– I’m having trouble getting my new business venture off the ground.

– She quickly got off the mark by winning her first race of the season.

– We finally got our project off the ground after months of planning.

Try to come up with as many sentences as possible using different tenses and forms of “get off” such as: getting someone/something/yourself/off (the) marks; gotten/got/getting (someone/something/yourself)off (the) marks; etc.

Finally, let’s practice using this idiom in conversation. Find a partner and take turns asking each other questions that require an answer containing “get off (the) marks”. For example:

Partner A: Have you started working on your project yet?

Partner B: Yes, I finally got off the mark and completed the first draft yesterday.

Remember to use different tenses and forms of “get off (the) marks” in your answers. This will help you become more comfortable using this idiom in everyday conversations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “get off the mark”

When it comes to using idioms, it’s important to understand their meanings and how they should be used in context. The idiom “get off the mark” is no exception. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this phrase that can lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

Using the Wrong Tense

One of the most common mistakes when using “get off the mark” is using the wrong tense. This idiom is typically used in past tense, such as “He finally got off the mark with his first goal of the season.” Using present tense, such as “He gets off the mark with his first goal,” can sound awkward and confusing.

Misusing Context

The context in which an idiom is used is crucial for its proper understanding. Misusing context can cause confusion or even change its meaning entirely. For example, saying “I need to get off the mark on my project” would not make sense because this idiom refers specifically to starting something successfully.

To avoid these common mistakes:

  • Use past tense when referring to getting off the mark
  • Ensure that you are using appropriate context for this idiom
  • If you’re unsure about how to use this phrase correctly, consult a dictionary or language resource for guidance
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