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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. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. 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.

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    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)


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