Get the short end or the wrong end of the stick

To get the short end or the wrong end of the stick is an idiom that has its roots in the 1500s, though the sentiment of this idiom may be even older. We will examine the meaning of the idiom get the short end or the wrong end of the stick, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To get the short end of the stick or to get the wrong end of the stick means to get the bad end of a deal, to come out on the bottom of a contest or exchange, to be gotten the better of in any given situation. The connotation is that one has not been treated quite fairly or that one is unlucky. The idiom get the short end of the stick is used more often than get the wrong end of the stick. Both these idioms have their roots in the idiom from the 1500s, get the worse end of the staff. There are many theories as to the origin of the phrases get the short end of the stick and get the wrong end of the stick. Some believe they relate to a master thrashing his servant with a stick, in which case the servant gets the wrong end of the stick. Others believe that the expressions come from the fact that since Roman times, people have washed themselves with a sponge on a stick in the outhouse. One might easily grab the wrong end of the stick in such a situation. Some believe that the word short in get the short end of the stick is a substitute for a scatological term related to the outhouse. Related phrases are gets the short end or the wrong end of the stick, got the short end or the wrong end of the stick, gotten the short end or the wrong end of the stick, getting the short end or the wrong end of the stick.

Examples

ACC refs leave a lot to be desired anyway, but sure seems like we get the short end of the stick on nearly every questionable call. (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Others who got the short end of the stick included entities like the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), Social Security Organisation (Socso) and a number of insurance companies. (The New Straits Times)

“Distillers do get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to alcohol taxation in Australia.” (The Sydney Morning Herald)

“You think of him as a gung-ho figure making unfortunate jokes – and he is gung-ho and sometimes, when he speaks his mind, ­people get the wrong end of the stick – but he paints and reads poetry.” (The Sunday Express)