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Carrot & Stick

Posted by ESC on February 09, 2000

In Reply to: Carrot & Stick posted by Tom Gossett on February 09, 2000

: Does anyone know the origin of the "carrot & stick" metaphor?

CARROT AND STICK - I thought the origin of this expression was pretty clear. Mules are stubborn so some enterprising farmer rigged up a stick with a carrot on a string that would dangle in front of the mule, a few inches from his nose. The mule could never get close enough to take a bite but would keep running to try and "catch up" with the carrot. That's the image I have - a fishing pole device attached to a mule's back. It may be something I've seen in a book.

Anyway, I didn't realize there was a mystery. Then I looked up the expression in the "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977). It says: ".carrot and stick. A riddle that seems to have confounded many students of language is the origin of the carrot and stick expression. Research in Aesop's Fables, the Uncle Remus folk tales and other such sources didn't turn up any answers."

Mr. and Mrs. Morris cite a couple of instances where the expression was used -- a speech by Winston Churchill and the movie "Maltese Falcon" but it sounds like the animal was tempted with a carrot and beaten with a stick. I am sure this is wrong. The stick is used to keep the carrot out front, not to hit the animal. Mr. Churchill in a press conference, May 25, 1943, states: 'We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and with a stick,".

I hate to say this but I believe Mr. Churchill and Mr. and Mrs. Morris got it wrong.