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straw

[straw]
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noun
  1. a single stalk or stem, especially of certain species of grain, chiefly wheat, rye, oats, and barley.
  2. a mass of such stalks, especially after drying and threshing, used as fodder.
  3. material, fibers, etc., made from such stalks, as used for making hats or baskets.
  4. the negligible value of one such stalk; trifle; least bit: not to care a straw.
  5. a tube, usually of paper or glass, for sucking up a beverage from a container: to sip lemonade through a straw.
  6. anything of possible but dubious help in a desperate circumstance.
  7. straw man(def 2).
  8. a straw hat.
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adjective
  1. of, pertaining to, containing, or made of straw: a straw hat.
  2. of the color of straw; pale yellow.
  3. of little value or consequence; worthless.
  4. sham; fictitious.
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Idioms
  1. catch/clutch/grasp at a straw/straws/any straw(s), to seize at any chance, no matter how slight, of saving oneself from calamity.
  2. 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.
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Origin of straw

before 950; Middle English; Old English strēaw; cognate with German Stroh; akin to strew
Related formsstraw·less, adjectivestraw·like, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for draw straws

straw1

noun
    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
  1. a single dry or ripened stalk, esp of a grass
  2. a long thin hollow paper or plastic tube or stem of a plant, used for sucking up liquids into the mouth
  3. (usually used with a negative) anything of little value or importanceI wouldn't give a straw for our chances
  4. 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
  5. straw in the wind a hint or indication
  6. the last straw a small incident, setback, etc that, coming after others, proves intolerable
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adjective
  1. mainly US having little value or substance
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See also man of straw
Derived Formsstrawlike, adjective

Word Origin

Old English streaw; related to Old Norse strā, Old Frisian strē, Old High German strō; see strew

straw2

verb
  1. archaic another word for strew
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Straw

noun
  1. Jack, full name John Whitaker Straw. born 1946, British Labour politician; Home Secretary (1997–2001); Foreign Secretary (2001–06); Lord Chancellor (2007–10)
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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

Word Origin and History for draw straws

straw

n.

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with draw straws

draw straws

Also, draw lots. Decide by a lottery using straws of different lengths. For example, Let's draw straws to see who will write the first draft. The lots version dates from the 1400s, whereas straws dates from the 1800s. Both have replaced the still older draw cuts. Another variant is draw the short straw, meaning to be the one so selected for a particular task.

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straw

In addition to the idioms beginning with straw

  • straw boss
  • straw in the wind
  • straw that breaks the camel's back
  • straw vote

also see:

  • draw straws
  • grasp at straws
  • last straw
  • make bricks without straw
  • not worth a dime (straw)
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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.