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More Carrot & Stick

Posted by Farmer Giles on February 11, 2000

In Reply to: More Carrot & Stick posted by ESC on February 10, 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.

: : : : : Now I'm on a quest to prove that I'm right and Winston Churchill was wrong. Here's one site that agrees with me - and it's a Christian forum too. That should count extra points:
: : : : : "The dumb farmer is the one who keeps on beating a dumb animal. The smart farmer straps a long stick over the donkey's head and ties a carrot to the end of the stick. The donkey wants the carrot, so he steps forward to get it and the carrot moves forward. Pretty soon, the donkey is moving on without getting his hind- end all blistered up and the farmer gets what he wants without being an angry moron."

: : : : :

: : : : ESC,

: : : : I'm with Winnie on this one. The OED says:

: : : : stick-and-carrot adj. phr.
: : : : characterized by both the threat of punishment and the offer of reward;

: : : : Gary

: : : I have to offer a (rare) dissent, too. I hear the phrase most often used as carrot OR stick, with the notion of choice embedded in it. Positive or negative reinforcement. Bribes or beatings. Orchids or onions.

: :
: : We have a the nearest thing to a donkey round here - a Shetland pony which my daughter rides - and we conducted an experiment. We tied a carrot - organic washed in clean spring water - to a long piece of bamboo and tried to encourage the pony (Fanny by name) to move forward under this inducement.

: : I have to report that after 2 hours of effort and much mirth we came to the conclusion that it was a most impractical device and Fanny very quickly concluded that the carrot was a mirage, and ignored it.

: : How else were we to amuse ourselves on a midweek day off?

: Well, see, it doesn't work with Shetland ponies. According to the Institute for Equine Behavioral Modification at the University of Kentucky, it only works on donkeys and mules. That's why you weren't able to move your Fanny.

Now see here; our Fanny is a little goer, very intelligent (may even surf the net for all I know) so don't cast aspersions. My daughter thinks her parents are just a little eccentric - 'mad as hatters' is her expression.