The Cliché: As CBS News, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times can all attest today, whenever two political candidates get nastier than usual in a debate, their "gloves come off." But last night, Pawlenty and Bachmann took their gloves off in a slightly different manner. "Bachmann and Pawlenty Drop the Gloves," declared Fox News's Jake Gibson. The Daily Beast soon followed with "Bachmann and Pawlenty drop the gloves." And Dan Burns at the Minnesota Progressive Project jumped in with "Bachmann, Pawlenty Drop The Gloves."
Where's it from: There's been some political glove dropping in the past, but never has the cliche so spiritedly rivaled "the gloves are off" for politics-as-sports-metaphor dominance. So if everyone's just taking off gloves, and in both cases the metaphor is used to indicate that the fight got nasty, what's with the shift? Well, "the gloves come off" has typically referred to boxing, where fighters might remove their gloves to inflict more damage. The idiom seems to date back to the 1940s. (Boxing itself surged in popularity during the depression.) "Drop the gloves" refers to hockey, where players drop their gloves to the ice as they rush to join a brawl. The idiom gained popularity much later, probably around the 1980s, which might explain why "the gloves are off" gets so much more play. It's just been around longer.