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What does the phrase "(to) squeeze water from a stone" mean?

Have you ever squeezed water from a stone?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The normal expression is like getting blood from a stone, used to convey the difficulty of extracting something from someone or something that is reluctant to yield it.

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Often used in conversations like, "You owe me $100!" "Hey man, it's like getting blood from a stone." Meaning, I don't have any money, squeeze all you like, you won't get anything. –  Jay Dec 7 '11 at 21:16
    
I'd say also, conveys a wasted effort, but I'm not a native speaker, correct me if I'm wrong. –  stivlo Dec 8 '11 at 4:44
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It is wasted effort, but the expression is not used to meant that. The emphais is on the difficulty of the operation. –  Barrie England Dec 8 '11 at 7:43
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I agree with Barrie (+1) that the most usual idiom is blood from a stone. Water from a stone is likely a malformation of the standard idiom. There may also be regional differences. For example, I've also heard "blood from a turnip".

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There is also a fairytale about a giant slayer who challenges a giant in a feat of strength — to squeeze water from a stone. The giant picks up a boulder and squeezes with all his might but cannot produce water. The 'giant slayer' (I believe he was just an unfortunate shoemaker who was elected to confront the giant) produces a yellow stone and squeezes it with visible effort, and at last a few drops of water drop to the floor. The giant concedes and leaves the town alone, the 'slayer' returning to a heroes welcome.

The yellow stone is, in fact, the cheese he packed for lunch.

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This? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Valiant_Little_Tailor –  Kris Jun 3 '13 at 10:13
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An idiom similar to many others like "struggling to make (both) ends meet" but with a sense of exasperation, or resignation.

Depending on the author's creativity and the context, the expression generally means:

  • managing to extract whatever little that is practically possible from a situation/ from something.
  • make the most of a situation
  • realization of the futility of trying to benefit from a situation or from something

Lisa Romano:

Squeezing Water From a Stone: How to Get More From Existing Capacity and Add More to Your Bottom Line

Brown Advisory Briefings:

Brown Advisory Briefings: Squeezing Water from a Stone

See also:
http://jasongrant.squarespace.com/jason-grant-blog/2010/12/21/you-cannot-squeeze-water-from-a-stone.html
http://www.vahistoryexchange.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Squeezing-Water.pdf
http://briandeutsch.blogspot.in/2007/11/trying-to-squeeze-water-from-stone.html

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I like the examples. Can you cite some reliable sources that support your actual claim about what the idiom means: respected reference works, for example. –  MετάEd Jun 5 '13 at 15:31
    
As of posting the answer, no definitions were found. Usage examples were convincing enough to hypothesize. –  Kris Jun 6 '13 at 8:36
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