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Short end of the stick

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 03, 2009 at 19:35

In Reply to: Short end of the stick posted by David FG on December 03, 2009 at 17:59:

: : : : The origin of the phrase "short end of the stick"

: : : : A stick has a finite length, so how could it have a short end? I inferred a situation in which one was in some sort of a tug of war, using a "stick" instead of a rope. Having less stick to hang onto would be disadvantageous.
: : : :
: : : : Then I heard a neighbor's wife tell how her husband's older brother had inherited the farm and that she and her husband "got the s h i t end of the stick." Having worked on a farm as a boy, it all made sense to me now. If you needed to walk through a mess of cow s h i t to bring the cows in for milking, you'd use a long pole (maybe a shovel handle) as a walking stick to maintain your balance. If your boots got stuck, you'd use the pole as a rescue device, reaching it out to some helper, who'd pull you out of the muck. Unfortunately, one of you got the s h i t end of the stick. Most logical explanation I'd heard.

: : : : "Short" is to "s h i t" as "heck" is to "hell." The phrase had been sanitized for common use. That's my story and I'm "sticking" to it.

: : : Have you read the relevant entry in the "Meanings and sayings" list? //www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/end-of-the-stick.html%20%20(VSD)

: : [May I say I doubt whether the example above fits a true picture of farm life, now or in the past: can there ever have been a "need" to "walk through a mess of cow s h i t to bring the cows in for milking"? Cow s h i t doesn't run all over the ground like a slurry; it lands in heaps (cow pies, cow pats) which can easily be walked around, not through. You would have to tread carefully in a pasture, keep your eyes open and dodge as required, but you wouldn't be wading through the stuff. - Bac.]

: And wouldn't it be a fairly badly run farm to let the stuff pile up so deep that anyone needed hauling out of the stuff with a stick?

: DFG

You can read a lot of opinions by consulting our Archive. Type "short end of the stick" into the Search Box at the top of the previous page. I don't know if you'll find a persuasive opinion. Personally, I think it has to come from some ritual for choosing who does the undesirable task, like the ritual of determining who gets the short straw.

And I agree with Baceceras, except on one point. Cow s h i t often appears in the form of a slurry. Even so, it only covers the limited area of a cow pie, or what more refined people call a "cow pat." I suspect that Baceceras has credentials similar to mine. I've worked on farms and put in more than enough time shoveling the stuff. No sticks anywhere in sight; I got the long end of the shovel.
SS