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Grasping at straws

Posted by Barney on April 23, 2001

In Reply to: Grasping at straws posted by ESC on April 23, 2001

: : : I know this term to mean a desperate attempt or just trying anything without really being sure if it will work. What I'm wondering is how did this phrase originate? Any help? I have a few ideas, but I'm really just grasping at straws.

: : Oxford English Dictionary, quotation from "Clarissa" (Richardson, 1748): "A drowning man will catch at a straw, the Proverb well says."

: A DROWNING MAN WILL CATCH AT STRAWS - "A desperate person will try anything to save himself, no matter how unlikely. The proverb has been traced back to 'Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation' by Thomas More (1478-1535). First cited in the United States in 'Colonial Currency' . The proverb is found in varying forms: a drowning man will clutch at a straw; A drowning man grabs at a straw; A drowning man snatches at straws, etc. The proverb has its counterpart in other languages too." From "The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

In the UK the phrase 'clutching at straws' is more generally heard but I guess it means the same thing