Servants wishing to be hired used to go into the market-place
of Carlisle (Carel) with a straw in their mouth. (See Mop.)
At Carel I stuid wi' a strae i my mouth,
The weyves com roun' me in custers;
What weage dus te ax, canny lad? says yen.
Anderson: Cumberland Ballads.
chopped or otherwise, at a wedding, signifies that the bridge is no
virgin. Flowers indicate purity or virginity, but straw is only the
refuse from which corn has been already taken.
A little straw shows which way the wind blows.
Mere trifles often indicate the coming on of momentous events. They
are shadows cast before coming events.
A man of straw.
A man without means; a Mrs. Harris; a sham. In French, “Un homme
de paille,” like a malkin. (See Man Of Straw.)
I have a straw to break with you.
I am displeased with you; I have a reproof to give you. In feudal
times possession of a fief was conveyed by giving a straw to the new
tenant. If the tenant misconducted himself, the lord dispossessed him
by going to the threshold of his door and breaking a straw, saying as
he did so, “As I break this straw, so break I the contract made between
us.” In allusion to this custom, it is said in Reynard the Fox —“The kinge toke up a straw fro' the ground, and pardoned and forguf
the Foxe,” on condition that the Fox showed King Lion where the
treasures were hid (ch. v.).
In the straw. “Être en couche”
(in bed). The phrase is applied to women in childbirth. The
allusion is to the straw with which beds were at one time usually
stuffed, and not to the litter laid before a house to break the noise
of wheels passing by. The Dutch of Haarlem and Enckhuysen, when a woman
is confined, expose a
pin-cushion at the street-door. If the babe is a boy, the
pin-cushion has a red fringe, if a girl a white one.
Not to care a straw for one.
In Latin, “[Aliquem] nihili, flocci, nauci, pili, teruncii
facere.” To hold one in no esteem; to defy one as not worth your
Not worth a straw.
Worthless. In French, “Je n'en donnerais pas un fétu” (or “un zeste).” Not worth a rap; not worth a pin's point; not worth a
fig (q.v.); not worth a twopenny dam, etc.
She wears a straw in her ear. She is looking out for another husband.
This is a French expression, and refers to the ancient custom of
placing a straw between the ears of horses for sale.
The last straw.
The only hope left; the last penny. 'Tis the last straw that
breaks the horse's (or camel's) back. In weighing
articles, as salt, tea, sugar, etc., it is the last which turns the
scale; and there is an ultimate point of endurance beyond which
calamity breaks a man down.
To carry off the straw
(“Enlever la paille”). To bear off the belle. The pun is
between “pal,” a slang word for a favourite, and “paille,” straw. The
French palot means a “pal.” Thus Gervais says -
“Mais, oncore un coup, man palot.”
Le Coup d'OEil Purin, p. 64.
To catch at a straw.
To hope a forlorn hope. A drowning man will catch at a straw. To
make bricks without straw. To attempt to do something without the
proper and necessary materials. The allusion is to the exaction of the
Egyptian taskmasters mentioned in Exodus v. 6-14. Even to the present,
“bricks” in India, etc., are made of mud and straw dried in the sun.
To make plum-puddings without plums.
To stumble at a straw. “Nodos in scirpo quoerere.”
To look for knots in a bulrush (which has none). To stumble in a
To throw straws against the wind.
To contend uselessly and feebly against what is irresistible; to
sweep back the Atlantic with a besom.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894