Straw that broke the camel's back
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The idiom the straw that broke the camel's back, alluding to the proverb "it is the last straw that breaks the camel's back", describes the seemingly minor or routine action which causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions.
It is a calque of the Arabic proverb about how a camel is loaded beyond its capacity to move or stand.[better source needed] That is, cataclysmic failure (a broken back) may follow from a seemingly inconsequential addition, a single straw; or that there is a limit to everyone's endurance, or everyone has his breaking-point.
This gives rise to the phrase "the last straw" or "the final straw", meaning the last in a line of unacceptable occurrences, provoking a seemingly sudden strong reaction.
Versions of the proverb include, in chronological order:
- "It is the last feather that breaks the horse's back" (1677);
- "it is the last straw that overloads the camel", mentioned as an "Oriental proverb" (1799);
- "it was the last ounce that broke the back of the camel" (1832);
- "the last straw will break the camel's back" (1836);
- "As the last straw breaks the laden camel's back" (1848);
- "this final feather broke the camel's back" (1876)
Other variants are:
- "the straw that broke the donkey's back";
- "the last ounce broke the camel's back";
- "the last peppercorn breaks the camel's back";
- "the melon that broke the monkey's back";
- "the feather that broke the camel's back";
- "the straw that broke the horse's back".
The last drop
The same sentiment is also expressed by the phrase "the last drop makes the cup run over", first found as "When the Cup is brim full before, the last (though least) superadded drop is charged alone to be the cause of all the running over" (1655).
- Helterbran, Valeri R. (2008). Exploring Idioms: A Critical-thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 978-1934338148.
- Archbishop Bramhall, Works 4:59, as quoted in George Latimer Apperson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs
- "On the Origin and Progress of Taxation", The Scots Magazine 61:244 (April 1799) full text
- Henry Lee, "An exposition of evidence in support of the memorial to Congress..." p. 12
- book review, The [[Dublin Review (Catholic periodical)|]] 1 (May-July 1836) full text
- Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
- Mark Twain , The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Notes
- Notes and Queries, March 25, 1893, p. 232 (but the Latin text here does not correspond to the meaning of this proverb or the last drop proverb)
- T. Fuller, Church History of Britain 9:2, as quoted in George Latimer Apperson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs