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I know what "short end of the stick" means, but I was wondering about its origin. How can sticks have a short end? If the stick itself is short, aren't both ends short to begin with? And yet the idiom implies that only one end is "short."

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Altho' this appears to be a duplicate question of the one linked by @FumbleFingers, the answer given by PieterGeerkens is not included in the previous question, so I would propose leaving this one open. (Can we mark an earlier question as a duplicate of a later one?) –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 11:17
@TrevorD: Pieter's "leverage-based" etymology seems unlikely to me. The original question itself includes both the (related) definitions for all these [negative word] end of the stick variations, and off-hand I don't see Pieter's in any off them. To me, that doesn't imply this question should be kept because it's somehow "different". It just means the accepted answer here is at best misleading, if not outright incorrect. –  FumbleFingers Aug 17 '13 at 14:49
@FumbleFingers I don't have a view on whether Pieter's answer is right or wrong - only that it's worth some consideration and letting others comment on / discuss it. That's also partly why I've asked him for a reference. I just didn't want to see it closed prematurely. –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 14:56
@TrevorD: There's nothing to stop people commenting and upvoting here even if the question is closed. But I think it makes more sense for all relevant answers to be in one place, so either Pieter could re-post on the original, or a mod could "merge" the questions and answers. There are several variations of this expression, but the consensus seems to be they share a common origin, so why would you want one answer separate from the rest? –  FumbleFingers Aug 17 '13 at 16:29
@FumbleFingers I didn't know that questions could be merged, and would have no objection to that, irrespective of whether it's done by Pieter reposting or by a mod. –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 18:58
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, waiwai933 Aug 18 '13 at 8:28

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2 Answers

up vote -2 down vote accepted

After reviewing a good dozen and half possible explanations on the web, the most likely seems to be a reference to carrying loads mounted on rods (sticks), simultaneous with being a variation on the older expressions "wrong end of the staff/stick".

When carrying a load, leverage works against the bearer holding the "short end", so that they must carry more of the load. Hence "getting the short end of the stick" means having to do extra work.

Other possible explanations range mostly from the crude, to the cruder, to variations on the alleged demise of Edward II. None of them seem the least bit likely (to me) as the source for a common expression.

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I saw a fewer of the cruder explanations and thought them rather unlikely as well, but the leverage explanation seems to make much more sense. Thanks! –  Jocelyn H Aug 17 '13 at 2:13
I'm not questioning your answer, but it would be helpful for future reference if you were to provide a reference/link for this explanation, especially as you suggest it is from web research. –  TrevorD Aug 17 '13 at 11:19
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I think the key lies in the change from "staff" to "stick" back in the 1500's (can only guess why the change occurred.) A staff was a sturdy, straight pole used as a weapon (and a walking stick during noncombat times.) When you got the wrong end of the "staff", you just got clobbered over the head. I would say that qualifies as the worst end of the deal.

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