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[straw] /strɔ/
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.
Origin of straw
before 950; Middle English; Old English strēaw; cognate with German Stroh; akin to strew
Related forms
strawless, adjective
strawlike, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for straw
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Joe picked his straw hat from a chair and stood turning it in his hands.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • After the good-night to my neighbour, I tumbled into my straw and slept soundly, animal-like.

    Green Mansions W. H. Hudson
  • "Sure I'm only rowling a wisp of straw on my leg," replied Hosey.

  • The tenacity of this straw makes it very valuable for such purposes.

    In the Heart of Vosges Matilda Betham-Edwards
  • The hallways were strewn with straw and the litter of packing.

    In the Valley Harold Frederic
British Dictionary definitions for straw


  1. stalks of threshed grain, esp of wheat, rye, oats, or barley, used in plaiting hats, baskets, etc, or as fodder
  2. (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)
  1. a pale yellow colour
  2. (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
See also man of straw
Derived Forms
strawlike, adjective
Word Origin
Old English streaw; related to Old Norse strā, Old Frisian strē, Old High German strō; see strew


(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)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for straw

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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straw in Culture

grasp (clutch) at straws definition

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.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with straw
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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