enter the lists, to

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enter the lists

To join an argument or competition. Now that you've entered the lists and decided to run for mayor, I hope you've prepared for the personal attacks that are likely to follow. Once my relatives start arguing, I usually leave the room rather than enter the lists.
See also: enter, list
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

enter the lists

Fig. to begin to take part in a contest or argument. He had decided not to stand for Parliament, but entered the lists at the last minute. The family disagreement had almost been resolved when the grandfather entered the lists.
See also: enter, list
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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.
See also: enter, list
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

enter the lists

issue or accept a challenge.
In medieval times, the lists were the enclosed area in which knights fought each other in tournaments.
See also: enter, list
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

enter the lists, to

To engage in combat, rivalry, or competition. The term comes from medieval jousting tournaments, in which the list or lists was the barrier around the arena for such a contest. It was used figuratively already by Shakespeare (“Now is she in the very lists of love,” Venus and Adonis, 1592). In 1647 Nathaniel Bacon used the full expression, “The King, loth to enter the List with the Clergy about too many matters” (Historical Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England). The term is similar to the slightly newer eager for the fray or enter the fray, “fray” being a battle, skirmish, or other fight, usually of a noisy nature. The first originated as a direct quotation from Colley Cibber’s version of Shakespeare’s Richard III (5.3): “My soul’s in arms, and eager for the fray.” However, all these expressions appear to be dying out.
See also: enter
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in classic literature ?
But so keen had been the previous shooting, that many yeomen who had come to enter the lists now would not do so; and only a dozen men stepped forth to give in their names.
But her own champion was now preparing to enter the lists.
He tacked a score of feet from the wharf, waved his hand theatrically, like a knight about to enter the lists, received a hearty cheer in return, and stood away into the Straits for a couple of hundred yards.
That so many male members of the non-noble elite found it socially and politically indispensable to be thought capable of "giving satisfaction" strengthens McAleer's argument; satisfaktionsfahig was not simply a warrant of social entitlement, but an acknowledgement that its bearer possessed a quality of masculinity made up of the courage of knights, the loyalty of liegemen, and the temerity of husbands sufficiently gallant to enter the lists in protection of their womenfolk.