Week if January 23, 2022

Suck it Up


“The straw that broke the camel’s back” is a metaphor for the final annoyance, demand, or slight that someone is willing to calmly tolerate. Camels often carry loads, and this term derives from an old fable about a shortsighted camel owner who had so overburdened his animal that he found out even one more straw was too much. “The last straw” and “the final straw” derive from this also.


Just as a scarecrow is an insubstantial being fabricated from straw, a “straw man” argument is created to be easily attacked, and a “straw man” in a transaction is a token or stand-in person or entity put in place for other’s purposes.


The practice of “drawing straws” is when straws are chosen from the hand of someone who conceals their lengths in his or her fist. The person who chooses the shortest straw typically must do an unpleasant task.


A “straw poll” is an informal poll to quickly gauge positions on a topic. The origin of this seems to come from looking at straw to determine which way the wind is blowing.


The term “grasping at straws” for a hopeless final effort comes from an old proverb that a “drowning man will catch at straws,” or the thin reeds growing at the side of a river, in a futile attempt to save himself.


Drinking straws are a very old idea. Several meter-long metal tubes in a Russian museum are now believed to be beer drinking straws about 5,000 years old.


Since clay and straw are traditional ingredients of bricks, the term “to make bricks without straw” refers to doing the impossible or without the necessary resources. There is also a Biblical story where Pharoah makes the Israelites gather their own straw for his brickmaking, rather that supply it to them, and without reducing their daily quota.