origin of "beat someone to the punch"

I know the idiom "beat someone to the punch" means to manage to do or say something before someone else does it(example : 'He wanted to ask Mary to dance, but Ron beat him to the punch.). But Why does that idiom become to have that meaning?

04:47 Fri 14th Jan 2005
 
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The phrase comes from the world of boxing or fist-fighting in general, a 'punch' being a blow with a fist. If one boxer "beats another to the punch", it just means that he got the strike in first, before the other had time to do it to him. Nowadays, we use it in any situation - such as the one about dancing you describe - where the one who acts most quickly wins the prize/achieves the aim.
Hello kjc. The previous answer is quite accurate, but as to why that idiom comes to have that meaning.... Well, some English idioms carry their origins with them, so that a precise user of the language would use, for example, 'beat someone to the punch' to describe a situation of aggressive behaviour, however mild, as in your example. If Ron and his pal were, say, doctors, trying to save someone's life, it would not normally be appropriate to say that Ron 'beat him to the punch' if he managed to perform the life-saving first. You COULD use it in that context, but it would not help to build up the word-picture you were trying to create - unless, of course, Ron and his pal were fierce rivals in their doctoring, and always trying to 'get one over' on the other.
Your question indicates that you are moving into an investigation of the nuances of the language that most native speakers would scarely comprehend.
Good luck.

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