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Posted by Smokey Stover on October 27, 2003

In Reply to: Fit with a shaft posted by ESC on October 26, 2003

: : : : Recently heard this being used in a speech and my wife and I disagreed as to whether this was an offensive term or not. It's was used as an equivalent to "getting the short end of the stick." For some reason I felt it was more of a prison slang term with sexual connotations. Any ideas?

: : : "Short end of the stick" has the same connotations for those aware of its origin, so if one term is offensive in a given context, then both are.

In the very old sense of "provided with a shaft," most of the examples usually given refer to arrowheads or spearheads being provided with a shaft. The newer meaning, being treated unfairly or with disfavor, is not less than a hundred years old, and apparently had, originally, no sexual connotations. Since the '60s, perhaps earlier, the sexual connotation has been explicit--vide the movie "Shaft"--but the meaning comes down to the same thing. When one is shafted, one is had, but in the figurative sense. "He shafted me" means "he did it to me again." The force of the implied vulgarism is attenuated by the fact that everyone uses some alternative for the F word for the same thing, that is, for being done dirty to.

As for "the short end of the stick," my father, whom I only heard on one single occasion use a vulgarism of an offensive sort (when he hit his thumb with a hammer), used often to speak of getting the short end of the stick. He and I thought it referred to that little ritual used for deciding who gets some unpleasant task that needs doing. One person holds twigs or narrow sticks that have been broken into differing lengths in such a fashion as to conceal all but the evenly lined-up tops of the sticks. When each individual has chosen a stick, they are compared. He who has the short stick is stuck. Perhaps others recall different uses of the phrase. However, I never heard of any sexual connotation adhering to "short end of the stick."