Tie the Knot: The Meaning & Origin Behind the Expression

Learn the history of this famous phrase.
Rope knotted to look like a heart.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Sep 12, 2022

You've most likely heard the phrase "tying the knot" numerous times throughout your life. In daily conversations, on television or in magazines, the tie the knot phrase has become a regular part of our wedding lingo. But not everyone knows the tie the knot meaning and why the idiom is so prominent in our everyday dialogue. So if you've ever thought, "What does tie the knot mean?" we have the answer for you. Plus, fun facts about the history of tying the knot and how you can add this common expression throughout your wedding.

In this article:

What Does Tie the Knot Mean?

The meaning of tying the knot is to get married to someone or the performance of a marriage ceremony. Some believe this phrase comes from a wedding tradition where to-be-weds tie a knot during the wedding ceremony, and because of that, tie the knot can be used figuratively or literally. For example, "Well wishes to the happy couple for tying the knot" is a figurative use of the phrase, while "The to-be-weds incorporated tying the knot into their ceremony" is literal.

The History and Origin of Tie the Knot

Many cultures use knots as a symbol of unity and even use a physical tying of the knot to represent this unity in wedding ceremonies. This wedding tradition is called a handfasting ceremony, which is an ancient Celtic custom where a couple holds hands while someone else binds their hands together with a ribbon or cord. The tradition represents the couple being bonded physically and spiritually to each other to show one's commitment to the other person. The cord's color represents something as well, for example, blue symbolizes tranquility, patience, devotion and sincerity. So if you want to have the handfasting ceremony, be sure to research cord colors and choose one or two that mean something special to you and your partner.

Some historians believe that around the 18th century, the handfasting ceremony was used so couples could have trial marriages, which lasted a year and a day. The two people would live together like a married couple during that time, and once the trial was over could decide to stay together and make their marriage official or break up. Today, the handfasting ceremony is a unity ceremony that's typically a part of Irish, traditional and Unitarian Universalist wedding ceremony orders. One modern alternative to the handfasting ceremony (that connects to the origin of tying the knot) is tying a physical knot in the ribbon or cord for each vow. This act represents each personal vow between the couple becoming an unbreaking promise. If you and your partner want to incorporate this tradition into your wedding, remember to save your handfasting cord after the ceremony so you can have it as a sweet wedding keepsake.

The tying the knot phrase doesn't have any variations, but it does have many synonyms. "Getting hitched," "wed" and "walking down the aisle" have the same meaning as tying the knot, but all have different origins. Even though the tie the knot phrase is very popular in Western dialogue, feel free to use these other terms in your wedding too.

Tie-the-Knot Wedding Ideas

Now that you know the tie the knot meaning, its history and its origin, you can feel more comfortable adding the handfasting ceremony to your wedding. But if you want to add the phrase throughout your wedding in a more subtle way, we have options for that too. Decorate your sweetheart table with a knotted rope, pretzel wedding favor bags that say, 'We Tied the Knot' or instead of having your wedding rings attached to a ring bearer pillow, tie the rings to twine. Want more ideas? Then check out these creative tie-the-knot motifs from real weddings that you can use for your special day.

Chalkboard Ceremony Sign

At this real wedding, the couple hired a calligrapher to write their wedding ceremony sign. The message on this wedding sign is the perfect way to remind guests that a wedding is about unity and the joining of two families. Here is another tie-the-knot message you can put on your ceremony sign: "Grab a drink and pick a spot before [Couple's Names] tie the knot!'

Nautical Table Number

Another opportunity for you to include the tie the knot meaning in your wedding is by having a literal knot as your reception table decoration. The type of knot pictured here is a monkey fist knot, which is traditionally used by sailors to add weight to the end of a line but can also be used as a stable (and symbolic) table number holder. Other types of knots that you can use are globe knots and Turk's head knots. You can even get creative with the kind of material you use to tie the knot and the material's color so it can match your wedding theme.

Rustic Reception Backdrop

Our favorite tie-the-knot idea is this beautiful DIY wedding decoration. The couple took the meaning of tying the knot and used it to create their wedding reception backdrop. The top of the backdrop has real eucalyptus plants as the base and dozens of knotted white and gold ropes cascading from it. Each rope has rustic or natural accents, like hanging succulents and skeleton keys, attached to them to match the couple's vintage and rustic wedding theme.

White Knotted Boutonniere

We love this tie-the-knot boutonniere for couples that want to add the tie the knot meaning to their wedding. For this wedding, the groom and groomsmen wore knotted boutonnieres with beautiful pink blooms. Another way you can add a knotted accessory is by having knotted bracelets for your wedding party to wear or giving out knotted bracelets as wedding party favors to your guests.

Illustrated Wedding Sign

At this cool and eclectic wedding, the grooms had a custom welcome sign made with outlines of their heads and the tie the knot phrase. This is an example of how you don't have to go the conventional route with your wedding signs and that incorporating the tie the knot phrase can be simple and to the point.

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