Straw that broke the camel's back
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The idiom the straw that broke the camel's back is from an Arabic proverb about how a camel is loaded beyond its capacity to move or stand. This is a reference to any process by which cataclysmic failure (a broken back) is achieved by a seemingly inconsequential addition, a single straw. This also gives rise to the phrase "the last/final straw", used when something is deemed to be the last in a line of unacceptable occurrences. Variations include "the straw that broke the donkey's back", the "melon that broke the monkey's back", the "feather that broke the camel's back", and the "straw that broke the horse's back".
One of the earliest published usages of this phrase was in Charles Dickens's Dombey and Son (1848), where he says "As the last straw breaks the laden camel's back", meaning that there is a limit to everyone's endurance, or everyone has his breaking point. Dickens was writing in the nineteenth century and he may have received his inspiration from an earlier proverb, recorded by Thomas Fuller in his Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs as "'Tis the last feather that breaks the horse's back".
In other languages
The equivalent proverb in the following languages roughly translates to "the drop that made the cup overflow".
- Afrikaans as dit is die laaste druppel wat die emmer laat oorloop
- Arabic as القشة التي قصمت ظهر البعير
- Croatian as kap koja je prelila čašu
- Czech as tohle byla poslední kapka a pohár přetekl
- Danish as dråben der fik bægeret til at spilde over
- Dutch as de druppel die de emmer doet overlopen
- Estonian as viimane piisk karikas
- Finnish: se oli viimeinen pisara
- French as c'est la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase
- German as der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt
- Greek as η σταγόνα που ξεχείλισε το ποτήρι
- Hungarian as az utolsó csepp a pohárban
- Hebrew as הקש ששבר את גב הגמל
- Italian as la goccia che fece traboccare il vaso
- Polish as kropla, która przelała czarę goryczy
- Portuguese as a gota que fez transbordar o copo
- Russian as последняя капля переполнила чашу терпения
- Romanian as picatura care a umplut paharul
- Spanish as la gota que colmó el vaso
- Swedish: det var droppen som fick bägaren att rinna över
- Turkish as bardağı taşıran son damla
- Vietnamese as Giọt nước làm tràn ly
- Helterbran, Valeri R. (2008). Exploring Idioms: A Critical-thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 978-1934338148.