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To get the wrong end of the stick

Posted by Ed Stansell on October 22, 2002

In Reply to: To get the wrong end of the stick posted by Shae on October 14, 2002

: : : : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "To get the wrong end of the stick", meaning, to misunderstand something?

: : : I haven't found it in my reference books yet, but my understanding of the phrase -- get the wrong (or sh*tty) end of the stick -- is to get a raw deal.

: : *wrong end of the stick, the* A misunderstanding or distortion, as in _We ordered a "full quart" of rice, but the clerk got hold of the wrong end of the stick and sent us "four quarts" instead_. This expression refers to a walking stick held upside down, which does not help a walker much. It originated in the 1400s as _worse end of the staff_ and changed to the current wording only in the late 1800s. Also see SHORT END OF THE STICK.
: : *short end of the stick, the* The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal. For example, _Helen got the short end of the stick when she was assigned another week of night duty_. The precise analogy in this term, first recorded in the 1930s, has been lost. Some believe it comes from _worse end of the staff_, used since the early 1500s, which in the mid-1800s became, in some instances, short or ****ty end of the stick, allegedly from a stick poked up one's rectum by another in command of the situation. Others believe it alludes to fighting with sticks, where having a shorter stick is a disadvantage. Also see WRONG END OF THE STICK.
: : From The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer
: : --------
: : *get hold of the wrong end of the stick* _coll_ to misunderstand something completely: _I read in the newspaper that the unemployment figures had improved but it has got hold of the wrong end of the stick -- unemployment is still increasing_ [V] Compare *get hold of the right end of the stick* to understand something: _'Did he tell you his whole story -- about his shooting the Portuguese Count and everything? . 'Shooting a Portuguese Count? Are you sure you've got hold of the right end of the stick, old boy?'_ (Evelyn Waugh)
: : From _Longman Dictionary of English Idioms_

: Probably of no relevance, but there's a coincidental incident related in one of the 'Vitae' of St. Patrick, recorded in the 7th or 8th centuries. Patrick, while enthusiastically converting a local king to Christianity, inadvertently pierced the king's foot with the pointy end of his staff. The king presumed this was part of the baptismal process and bore the pain with fortitude. It was only afterwards, when Patrick tried to bless the king by 'dubbing' him with the other end that they both realised that the king had got the wrong end of the stick first.

How does one get the short end of the stick? Isn't the stick the same length from either end?

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