a single stalk or stem, especially of certain species of grain, chiefly wheat, rye, oats, and barley.
a mass of such stalks, especially after drying and threshing, used as fodder.
material, fibers, etc., made from such stalks, as used for making hats or baskets.
the negligible value of one such stalk; trifle; least bit:
not to care a straw.
a tube, usually of paper or glass, for sucking up a beverage from a container:
to sip lemonade through a straw.
anything of possible but dubious help in a desperate circumstance.
straw man (def 2).
a straw hat.
of, pertaining to, containing, or made of straw:
a straw hat.
of the color of straw; pale yellow.
of little value or consequence; worthless.
sham; fictitious.
catch / clutch / grasp at a straw / straws / any straw(s), to seize at any chance, no matter how slight, of saving oneself from calamity.
draw straws, to decide by lottery using straws or strawlike items of different lengths, usually with the short straw or straws determining the person chosen or the loser.
Contemporary Examples

Peter Beinart on why the front-runner should pass on his party’s first primary, not just August’s straw Poll.
Romney’s Right to Skip Iowa Peter Beinart June 26, 2011

It was nearly impossible in Arizona to bring a case against a straw purchaser.
The Truth Inside the Conspiracy Theory David Frum June 26, 2012

The smell of harkl alone would peel the flesh from your face at 100 paces and the taste is like sipping Hell through a straw.
My Year of Eating Dangerously Simon Majumdar July 6, 2009

Hana seeks refuge from the buzzing lights of Otome Road in a nearby café and makes another swirl with her straw.
The Japanese Women Who Love Gay Anime Brandon Presser December 5, 2014

straw baskets were also passed around for cash—money for the Polk County Republican Party.
Iowa Caucus in Urbandale 8 Proves Romney’s Suburban Stronghold Lloyd Grove January 3, 2012

Historical Examples

I can give them some money, and they will then manage to get me out on straw bail.
The Expressman and the Detective Allan Pinkerton

Joe picked his straw hat from a chair and stood turning it in his hands.
K Mary Roberts Rinehart

The figures were of straw, and no wonder yielded so readily to the spear.
Bakemono Yashiki (The Haunted House) James S. De Benneville

“Sure I’m only rowling a wisp of straw on my leg,” replied Hosey.
Tales And Novels, Volume 4 (of 10) Maria Edgeworth

He gave the information carelessly, as though it did not matter to him a straw.
The Marriage of William Ashe Mrs. Humphry Ward


stalks of threshed grain, esp of wheat, rye, oats, or barley, used in plaiting hats, baskets, etc, or as fodder
(as modifier): a straw hat

a single dry or ripened stalk, esp of a grass
a long thin hollow paper or plastic tube or stem of a plant, used for sucking up liquids into the mouth
(usually used with a negative) anything of little value or importance: I wouldn’t give a straw for our chances
a measure or remedy that one turns to in desperation (esp in the phrases clutch or grasp at a straw or straws)

a pale yellow colour
(as adjective): straw hair

straw in the wind, a hint or indication
the last straw, a small incident, setback, etc that, coming after others, proves intolerable
(mainly US) having little value or substance
(archaic) another word for strew
Jack, full name John Whitaker Straw. born 1946, British Labour politician; Home Secretary (1997–2001); Foreign Secretary (2001–06); Lord Chancellor (2007–10)

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.

To make a final, desperate effort: “The candidate made a few last attempts to discredit his opponent, but it was clear he was just grasping at straws.”

Used in brick-making (Ex. 5:7-18). Used figuratively in Job 41:27; Isa. 11:7; 25:10; 65:25.

straw boss
straw in the wind
straw that breaks the camel’s back
straw vote


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