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Re: Carrot ON a stick; carrot and a stick

Posted by ESC on November 11, 2000

In Reply to: Re: Carrot ON a stick; carrot and a stick posted by Bob on November 10, 2000

: : : First of all, let me apologize if this has already been addresed. I DID scan for it, and read
: : : several other postings first, so I didn't just jump on and ask about the whole nine yards, right?

: : : My initial understanding of "carrot and stick" was that it based on the idea of luring a donkey,
: : : by tying a carrot on the end of a stick. So if you were using "carrot and stick" with someone,
: : : you were constantly promising them something (that you had no intention of giving them) as
: : : a means of motivating them.

: : : Lately, however, I have seen this phrase used to mean a combination of reward and punishment.
: : : It still implies some kind of "behavior modification" but in a totally different way.

: : : So my question (and I do have one!) is three-fold:
: : : 1. Did I hallucinate my interpretation of the word, or are people using it incorrectly nowadays?
: : : 2. How long does a phrase get misused (if in fact it is being misused) before it takes on a new meaning?
: : : 2a. Should I fight the good fight (assuming I'm right) or should I fold under the "English is a changing
: : : and evolving language and blah blah blah."

: : : thanks for your patience and your response,
: : : keina

: : CARROT AND STICK - Yes, this phrase has been discussed here previously. I thought the origin of this expression was pretty clear. But it turns out there are two schools of thought - 1. carrot ON a stick (a carrot dangling on a string on a stick before a stubborn mule) and 2. carrot and/or stick (alternating punishment and reward).

: : My opinion is that the right expression is No. 1 and refers to this scenario -- mules are stubborn so some enterprising farmer rigged up a stick with a carrot on a string that would dangle in front of the mule, a few inches from his nose. The mule could never get close enough to take a bite but would keep running to try and "catch up" with the carrot. The evidence on my "side" is a Little Rascals routine, a Janis Joplin monologue, some clipart showing a carrot on a stick dangling before a mule, and a story told on a religious Web site. Weighty evidence, don't you think?

: : Evidence for side No. 2 is an entry in "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977). It says: ".carrot and stick. A riddle that seems to have confounded many students of language is the origin of the carrot and stick expression. Research in Aesop's Fables, the Uncle Remus folk tales and other such sources didn't turn up any answers."

: : Mr. and Mrs. Morris cite a couple of instances where the expression was used -- a speech by Winston Churchill and the movie "Maltese Falcon" that infers that the animal was tempted with a carrot and beaten with a stick. What Mr. Churchill said in a press conference, May 25, 1943, was: 'We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and with a stick,".

: : I hate to say this but I believe Mr. Churchill and Mr. and Mrs. Morris got it WRONG. My version makes way more sense. I rest my case.

: Sorry. I have to side with Sir Winston. The phrase is almost always used in terms of behavior mod, the alternate choices of positive or negative reinforcement, alternates well known to parents and mule skinners. The confusion stems from beating the poor donkey with a stick (as I understand it, not a productive strategy) and the alternate of a carrot/reward... which is suspended from (an altogether different) stick. Or fishing rod, in a classic illustration.

: The never-ending debate, with Dr Spock and B.F. Skinner and Tough Love advocates and a rich stew of other people involved,revolves around the efficacy of rewards vs. punishments, or some measured combination thereof. The debate never ends because a case can be made for every point of view... sometimes even a persuasive case. It gets boiled down to a simplified carrot-OR-stick verbal formula, but it's obviously more complex and nuanced than that. (How do you get people off welfare? How do you get homework finished?) Yes, people say carrot AND stick, but it's still a choice (the Big Issue), not a delivery mechanism (merely one side, the reward symbol, of the debate.)

Who are you going to believe, Janis Joplin or Winston Churchill? I would suggest we take a vote on it, but that's painful subject right now in the U.S. Is there a possibility that there have always been two separate but equal expressions involving a carrot? Or maybe the two carrot expressions evolved from a common ancestor?