Posted by ESC on October 24, 2001
In Reply to: Straw poll & leap of faith posted by R. Berg on October 24, 2001
: : Can anyone tell me the origin of these phrases?
: : I searched the database and past forum discussions without finding out.
: : Thanks.
: A straw vote, or straw poll, is so called from one meaning of "straw" as a noun: "a slight fact considered as an indication; as, the dress of a man is a poor straw as to his politics" (Webster's unabridged, 1934). The arrangement of various senses of "straw" in the dictionaries implies that this sense arose from the idea that a straw is something small and unimportant, but I wonder whether "a straw in the wind" (from the practice of using a straw as an indicator of wind direction) had an influence.
: In a reasoning process where step A leads clearly and inarguably to step B, you can simply "walk" from A to B. If the connection is less convincing--if you could reasonably accept A without inferring B--a gap exists, which must be leaped over if you're to accept the conclusion, B. The leap of faith is the mental maneuver by which a person adopts a belief without compelling rational grounds.
Yes, it relates to straw in the wind.
STRAW POLL (STRAW VOTE) - "originally an informal survey of a small group to determine opinion'; now becoming a term for a scientific, large-scale poll based on the theory of a random sample.John Seldon (1584-1654) .wrote, 'Take a straw and throw it up into the Air - you may see by that which way the Wind is,' adding, 'More solid things do not show the Complexion of the times so well, as Ballads and Libels.' However, an earlier use of a similar phrase can be found in Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice, Act I, scene 1: 'I should be still/Plucking the grass to know where sits the wind.'.The term 'straw vote' is traced to the Cleveland Leader in 1866, with indications that it had been used long before." "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).