Please see the context from this blog of Joel Spolsky:

Since you have to poke at Windows Calculator with a stick, it doesn't have to be as fast as Excel.

What does he mean by poking with a stick ? Does it mean it is not used often or something ?


4 Answers 4


The difference between Windows Calculator and Excel is that Windows Calculator is designed for interactive use only. It performs calculations only when you push its buttons. Whereas Excel is programmable: it can be instructed to perform a long series of calculations without needing user interaction for each one.

So Joel is analogising pressing the buttons in Windows Calculator (which is what you have to do each time you want to make it calculate) with poking things with a stick. I think the intended image is of someone poking an animal (or, as suggested by petemoloy, a stuck mechanism) with a stick in order to make it move.

  • 1
    I think you got it right.
    – Noah
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 9:43

We use this expression in our shop pejoratively to mean a system that can't be trusted to work on its own without manual intervention. I imagine an old steam-powered machine consisting of wooden cogs that an old time engineer has to literally poke with a stick when one of the cogs sticks.


Common parlance where I come from (London / SE England) and means goading, verbally aggravating, usually by picking on a fault or weakness to stir up an angry reaction.

  • The problem is that it can have different meanings. That's why context is important. Here it means something different, already explained 2 answers above you. That's why it's important to look at the context. Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 20:02

A form of being judgmental; a way of ridicule similar to stirring up the coals in a fire that possibly has simmered or almost gone out. That can be likened to a personal conflict whereby the truth of a situation has been misconstrued to form a rumor that is then spread.

Last, putting down of another person for the sake of belittling.

  • 2
    Hi Paul, welcome to EL&U. I suspect the downvote (not mine) is because you've provided what appears to be a definition, but you haven't indicated whether you've made this up yourself or you're citing from a published source. You can edit your answer to cite your source(s); for further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour. :-) Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 12:16
  • 1
    Also, I have never heard "poking with a stick" being used in that sense. I would understand it to mean "waking someone up" or similar.
    – user323578
    Commented Apr 3, 2019 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.