Unsure About Wedges

Posted by TheFallen on March 15, 2002

In Reply to: Wedges posted by TheUnlurker on March 15, 2002

: : : : Where does the phrase:

: : : : "THE WRONG END OF THE STICK" emanate from????

: : : Probably from another phrase, "the short end of the stick," which historically had something to do with being shafted, as it were. Also see link below.

: : ... and the thin end of the wedge? What's that all about?

: It's a simple metaphor.

: Wood and stone were (are) split by driving wedges into small fissures; once the "thin end" had been driven in all the hard work had been done. Tapping the "fat end" forced the medium apart further and further until it eventually split.

: As for "the wrong end of the stick"...
: If you've used a stick as a walking aid then the muddy end is the wrong end,
: or,
: If you've used a stick to poke around in a fire then the hot end is the wrong end,
: or,
: If you've used a stick to stir some medium (paint, say) then the gunged end is the wrong end,
: etc.

: I am reminded:
: What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?
: A stick.
: What's brown and sticky?
: A stick

Hmmmm. Given that I can't find any source references for the expression "the thin end of the wedge", I've been musing. It's actually quite hard to define a neat meaning for the phrase - the closest I can come up with is that someone who "gets the thin end of the wedge" is someone who is given the worst or most difficult or unpleasant part of something - whether it be a thing or a task. Also to pass comment such as "that really is the thin end of the wedge" means, I think, that the thing referred to borders on intolerable.

Unlurker's proposed origin is plausible, I suppose - if one is to identify with a wedge used in masonry or carpentry, then the most unpleasant place to be on that wedge would indeed be at "the thin end". It's the part hammered into the stone or wood. However, I wonder if the phrase's provenance could instead be equally as simple - maybe from the division of food. If something round is sliced and shared, then a person getting the "thin end of a wedge" has been hard done by, because he's probably getting less than the guy got the fat part.

Alternatively, there may be a military explanation. Long ago, wedges were used as troop formations to attempt to drive apart enemy lines. Being at "the thin end of the wedge" was undoubtedly not where the smart soldier would choose to be, since it would mean almost certain death as he'd be among the men first to encounter the enemy.

Any other opinions or a clear reference gratefully appreciated.