What Is the 'Straw That Broke the Camel's Back'?

06:13 October 15, 2022

What Is the 'Straw That Broke the Camel's Back'?

And now Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.

In life, things can get tough. Sometimes, it is good not to let things bother us. Letting things roll off our backs is a good life skill. When things roll off our backs, they are out of our minds. They no longer bother us.

But, let’s face it … sometimes, things do bother us. Sometimes in life, we are pushed to our limit.

So, on today’s program, we talk about those times when we have had enough!

We have a couple of expressions that help us describe that state of mind. They involve the word straw.

First, let’s define straw. Straw is the dry stem of plants like wheat or other grains. TheHayManager.com says, “Straw is yellow or golden colored and is a byproduct of the grain harvest.”

In other words, it is a waste product of wheat. But it has many uses.

In a garden, you can use straw on top of soil to keep it from drying out. Straw can also keep weeds from growing.

Straw, especially dry straw, is not very nutritious. But because it is hollow, straw makes excellent bedding for animals. Horses, cows, goats, and camels may enjoy a good night’s sleep on a straw bed.

Animals not only sleep on straw. Some may also have to carry bales of straw on their backs.

And that brings us to this expression: the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Merriam-Webster dictionary says the expression means “the last in a series of bad things that happen to make someone very upset, angry, …” or some other bad feeling.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was one straw too many. With that piece added to the camel’s back, the load became too heavy to bear. In other words, it is the last thing to happen that makes you give up on something.

Here is an example: Let’s say I have a friend who constantly lets me down. When he says he is going to do something, he never does it. And he always promises next time will be different.

Well, one day I told him I was going out of town for two days and needed someone to feed my cat. He offered to help. I was not so sure. But he promised that he would take care of my cat Meepers. I believed him and left my cat in his care. Well, guess what? He forgot to feed her! She went two whole days without food! Luckily, Meepers is a very fat cat. But still, that was unforgivable.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am never trusting him again.

We have a similar straw expression but without the camel.

The last straw is the last thing that pushes you to some sort of limit. You cannot take a situation anymore because of that last straw.

Here’s another example: Earlier this year, I joined a local yoga studio. It was very close to my home. So, that was good. But other things about the studio were not. It was very small. So, when I did yoga positions, I would often get hit by other people. That bothered me. Also, the teacher talked too much about modern philosophy during the class. That got on my nerves. But then she raised the cost of her classes. The price almost doubled!

That was the last straw. I decided just to do yoga at home with a YouTube instructor. I save money. And if the instructor talks too much, I can just turn down the sound.

And that’s all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories.

Don't forget to practice using last straw or the straw that broke the camel's back.

Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.

Below is an English in a Minute video showing another example of "last straw."


by-product – n. a product or result produced in addition to the main product or result

hollow – adj. an unfilled space

bale – n. a large bundle of goods tightly tied for storing or shipping

yoga – n. a system of exercises for gaining bodily or mental control and well-being

studio – n. a place for the study of something

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