O.E. rap, from P.Gmc. *raipaz (cf. O.N. reip, M.Du., Du. reep "rope," Goth. skauda-raip "shoe-lace," O.H.G., Ger. reif "ring, hoop"). Technically, only cordage above one inch in circumference and below 10 (bigger-around than that is a cable). Nautical use varies. Finnish raippa "hoop, rope, twig" is a Gmc. loan-word. The verb is attested from c.1300. To know the ropes (1840) is originally a seaman's term. Phrase on the ropes "defeated" is attested from 1924, a fig. extension from boxing. To be at the end of (one's) rope "out of resources and options" is first attested 1686. Formerly also in many slang and extended uses related to hanging, e.g. John Roper's window "a noose," rope-ripe "deserving to be hanged," both 16c.
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D. Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers. Cite This Source
Idioms and Phrases with on the ropes
On the verge of defeat or collapse, helpless, as in They acknowledged that their campaign was on the ropes, and they could not possibly win the election. This expression, alluding to a boxer forced back to the ropes of the ring and leaning against them for support, has been used figuratively since the mid-1900s.