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

Have you ever squeezed water from a stone?


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

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".


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.


Exodus chapter 17, verse 6 reads- "I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

The idea of getting water from a stone is an unreasonable idea. I think the meaning behind this verse is that it is such a tremendous feat, and yet God could accomplish it with a single strike.

This may not be exactly the meaning you were looking for, but nobody else mentioned it, and I do believe it is supporting evidence of the phrases true meaning.


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:

  • 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. – MetaEd 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

The idiom 'water from a stone" is correct, meaning a result cannot be produced from a given set of circumstances. Similar, but separate from the idiom, "blood from a turnip."

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