enter the lists


noun (used with a singular or plural verb)
an enclosed arena for a tilting contest.
the barriers enclosing this arena.
any place or scene of combat, competition, controversy, etc.
enter the lists, to involve oneself in a conflict or contest: to enter the lists against the protective tariff.

1350–1400; Middle English listes, plural of liste list2

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World English Dictionary
lists (lɪsts)
pl n
1.  history
 a.  the enclosed field of combat at a tournament
 b.  the barriers enclosing the field at a tournament
2.  any arena or scene of conflict, controversy, etc
3.  enter the lists to engage in a conflict, controversy, etc
[C14: plural of list² (border, boundary)]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

"catalogue consisting of names in a row or series," 1602, from M.E. liste "border, edging, stripe" (c.1280), from O.Fr. liste "border, band, row, group," also "strip of paper," or from O.It. lista "border, strip of paper, list," both from a Gmc. source (cf. O.H.G. lista "strip, border, list," O.N. lista
"border, selvage," O.E. liste "border"), from P.Gmc. *liston, from PIE *leizd- "border, band." The sense of "enumeration" is from strips of paper used as a sort of catalogue. The O.E. word survives in archaic lists "place of combat," at the boundary of fields.

"tilt, lean," especially of a ship, 1880, earlier (1626) lust, of unknown origin, perhaps an unexplained spelling variant of M.E. lysten "to please, desire, wish, like" (see listless) with a sense development on the notion of "leaning" toward what one desires (cf. incline).

"hear, hearken," now poetic or obsolete, from O.E. hlystan "hear, hearken," from hlyst "hearing," from P.Gmc. *khlustiz, from PIE *kleu- "to hear" (see listen).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

enter the lists

Also, enter the fray. Engage in a fight or competition, as in He said he'd be willing to enter the lists well before the primaries, or Whenever people disagreed, she was eager to enter the fray. The first term uses the noun lists in the sense of "a barrier around the arena enclosing medieval jousting tournaments" and was being used figuratively by the late 1500s. The variant uses fray in the sense of "a noisy skirmish or battle," a usage from the late 1300s.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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