the straight and narrow




La Porte étroiteLa Porte étroite (Strait is the Gate) – a 1909 novel by André Gide

A novel about the failure of love in the face of the narrowness of the moral philosophy of Protestantism.

André Gide (1869-1951) was a French novelist, essayist, and critic, regarded as the father of modern French literature. His other notable works are The Immoralist (1902), The Counterfeiters (1927), and his Journal (1939–50). Nobel Prize for Literature (1947).




The straight and narrow is the honest and morally acceptable way of living.


In the phrase, straight is understood as meaning not crooked, but it is in fact an alteration of strait, meaning: (of a way or passage) so narrow as to make transit difficult. (The straight and narrow is therefore a pleonasm.)


The phrase is from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew, 7:13-14 – (King James Version)


This figurative use of strait with reference to the Bible is found for example in Belvedére, Or the Garden of the Muses (1600), by John Bodenham:

No wise man likes in such a life to dwell,

Whose wayes are strait to heauen, but wide to hell.


The modern phrase is first recorded in 1842 in Hymns of Childhood, by Jane Eliza Leeson:

Loving Shepherd, ever near,

Teach Thy lamb Thy voice to hear;

Suffer not my steps to stray

From the straight and narrow way.

Where Thou leadest I would go,

Walking in Thy steps below,

Till before my Father’s throne,

I shall know as I am known.



porte étroite




As an adjective, strait means of limited spatial capacity; narrow or cramped; and, figuratively, close, strict or rigorous.


But, even before this adjective had become old-fashioned and unfamiliar, it was often interpreted as straight.

For example, in The Surgeon’s Guide: or Military and Domestique Surgery (1658), A. L. Fox wrote:

Bind the wound slackly, and let the party not put on too straight clothes.


This is why strait-laced and straitjacket (expressing the idea of being tightly laced or confined) have changed their spellings to straight-laced and straightjacket - much as purists may object.


In strait-laced, laced refers to the string that fastens a bodice or corset. This very tight fastening has been metaphorical for excessive rigidity of conduct since the 16th century.

For example, Sir Robert Dallington, recording his views about the French people, wrote in 1598:

They of the Reformed Religion may not Dance, being an exercise against which their strait-laced Ministers much inveigh.


As an adjective, strait is archaic, but it survives as a noun (usually in the plural) meaning a narrow passage of water connecting two seas or two other large areas of water, as in the Straits of Gibraltar (le détroit de Gibraltar in French).


This noun is also used, in the plural, in reference to a situation characterised by a specified degree of trouble or difficulty, as in dire straits.


The word strait was originally a shortening of Old French estreit (Modern French étroit(e)), meaning tight, narrow.

This French word is from Latin strictus (cf. English strict), meaning drawn tight.

And strictus is the past participle of the verb stringere, to tighten, draw tight.



In French, Matthew, 7:13-14, is:

Entrez par la porte étroite ! En effet, large est la porte, spacieux le chemin menant à la perdition, et il y en a beaucoup qui entrent par là, mais étroite est la porte, resserré le chemin menant à la vie, et il y en a peu qui les trouvent.

(Segond 21)


The French word étroit(e) corresponds to English straitwhich illustrates the fact that to many English words beginning with s- + consonant correspond French words beginning with é- (or, sometimes, es-). For example:

English strange ↔ French étrange

English school ↔ French école (but there are words such as scolaire and scolariser)

English student ↔ French étudiant(e) (and the adjective estudiantin(e))

English scale (graduated range) ↔ French échelle

English scale (of a fish, of a reptile) ↔ French écaille

English study ↔ French étude

English sketch ↔ French esquisse

English spirit ↔ French esprit

English scaffold ↔ French échafaud and échafaudage

English spice ↔ French épice

English spinach ↔ French épinard

English slave ↔ French esclave.

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