Over on a question about The Lord of the Rings, the phrase "stick-at-naught" has been brought up. There's some debate over its meaning.

In The Lord of the Rings, Book One, Chapter 11: A Knife in the Dark, the following line is spoken:

I suppose you know who you've taken up with? That's Stick-at-naught Strider, that is! Though I've heard other names not so pretty.

Some users believe it means that Strider has no scruples (in the sense of he doesn't stop at anything), while others have suggested that it means he is some sort of wanderer (in the sense he doesn't stick around anywhere). Yet another suggestion is that it means he doesn't see things through to their finish.

What does it mean? And is (or was) this a common phrase in England, or is this something Tolkien made up or took from another culture?

I have found a few results on Google suggesting meanings, but these seem to be random forums or wikis. I'm not sure of their reliability.


2 Answers 2


It's a variant on stick at nothing


Allow nothing to deter one from achieving one's aim, however wrong or dishonest.

Here, it's used as a compound premodifier.

The verbal form is used by Thomas Ward in England's Reformation: A Poem, in Four Cantos as early as 1845 :

Besides, the king, tho' dear he buy it,

Will stick at naught to purchase quiet.

There is not a necessary implication of unscrupulousness, though 'he won't let anything defeat him' or 'indefatigable' or better still 'valiant' would remove most of the connotation of such. The backbiters exploit the negative connotation.

  • 7
    As the asker, I'm thoroughly confused by the downvote and would appreciate an explanation for it. This answer contains an apparently reasonable explanation, a citation from a well known dictionary, and an older, poetic source that exemplifies the exact phrase. I'm very curious to hear what's wrong with it.
    – jpmc26
    May 9, 2017 at 22:24
  • 6
    To simplify the language even further, it's basically the same thing as "stop at nothing".
    – SGR
    May 10, 2017 at 7:21
  • however wrong or dishonest refers to one's aim, or to the deterrent?
    – MrMartin
    Jun 3, 2019 at 11:55
  • 2
    @MrMartin When otherwise an ambiguity would arise, the descriptor typically attaches to the nearest sensible noun group. So here: 'Allow nothing to deter one from achieving one's aim, however wrong or dishonest that aim might be.' And by implication, one's methods (the achieving of one's aim) might well also be wrong. Jun 3, 2019 at 13:48

Simply someone who follows through no matter what. Not necessarily wrong or bad.

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