early 13c., from weak grade of O.E. teohan
"to pull, drag," from P.Gmc. *teukh-
"pull," from PIE *deuk-
"to pull, to lead" (see duke
). Related to tow
(1). The noun is recorded from c.1500; meaning "small steamer used to tow other vessels" is recorded from 1817. Phrase tug of war
(1670s) was originally figurative, "the decisive contest, the real struggle."