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Short end of the stick

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 03, 2009 at 19:31

In Reply to: Short end of the stick posted by David FG on December 03, 2009 at 17:59:

: : : : The origin of the phrase "short end of the stick"

: : : : A stick has a finite length, so how could it have a short end? I inferred a situation in which one was in some sort of a tug of war, using a "stick" instead of a rope. Having less stick to hang onto would be disadvantageous.
: : : :
: : : : Then I heard a neighbor's wife tell how her husband's older brother had inherited the farm and that she and her husband "got the shit end of the stick." Having worked on a farm as a boy, it all made sense to me now. If you needed to walk through a mess of cow shit to bring the cows in for milking, you'd use a long pole (maybe a shovel handle) as a walking stick to maintain your balance. If your boots got stuck, you'd use the pole as a rescue device, reaching it out to some helper, who'd pull you out of the muck. Unfortunately, one of you got the shit end of the stick. Most logical explanation I'd heard.

: : : : "Short" is to "shit" as "heck" is to "hell." The phrase had been sanitized for common use. That's my story and I'm "sticking" to it.

: : : Have you read the relevant entry in the "Meanings and sayings" list? (VSD)

: : [May I say I doubt whether the example above fits a true picture of farm life, now or in the past: can there ever have been a "need" to "walk through a mess of cow shit to bring the cows in for milking"? Cow shit doesn't run all over the ground like a slurry; it lands in heaps (cow pies, cow pats) which can easily be walked around, not through. You would have to tread carefully in a pasture, keep your eyes open and dodge as required, but you wouldn't be wading through the stuff. - Bac.]

: And wouldn't it be a fairly badly run farm to let the stuff pile up so deep that anyone needed hauling out of the stuff with a stick?


You can read a lot of opinions by consulting our Archive. Type "short end of the stick" into the Search Box at the tope of the previous page. I don't know if you'll find a persuasive opinion. Personally, I think it has to come from some ritual for choosing who does the undesirable task, like the ritual of determining who gets the short straw.