Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.

WORD ORIGIN

Old English streaw "stems or stalks of certain cereals," literally "that which is scattered or strewn," related to streowian (see strew), from Proto-Germanic *strawam "that which is scattered" (cf. Old Norse stra, Danish straa, Swedish strå, Old Frisian stre, Old Dutch, Old High German stro, German Stroh "straw"), from PIE *stere- "to spread" (see structure (n.)). The notion is of dried grain stalks strewn on a floor as carpeting or bedding. As a type of what is trifling or unimportant, attested from late 13c. Meaning "hollow tube through which a drink is sucked" is recorded from 1851.

To draw straws as a means of deciding something is recorded from 1832. The last straw is from the proverb of the camel. Straw poll is from 1932; earlier straw vote (1866). Straw hat first attested mid-15c. To clutch (or grasp or catch) at straws (1748) is what a drowning man proverbially would do.

Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.