Straw poll & leap of faith

Posted by R. Berg on October 24, 2001

In Reply to: Straw poll & leap of faith posted by Larry Hershfield 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.