[ straw ]
/ strɔ /




    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 formsstraw·less, adjectivestraw·like, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for grasp at straws (1 of 3)


/ (strɔː) /



mainly US having little value or substance
See also man of straw
Derived Formsstrawlike, adjective

Word Origin for straw

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

British Dictionary definitions for grasp at straws (2 of 3)


/ (strɔː) /


archaic another word for strew

British Dictionary definitions for grasp at straws (3 of 3)


/ (strɔː) /


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

Word Origin and History for grasp at straws



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

Idioms and Phrases with grasp at straws (1 of 2)

grasp at straws

Also, clutch at straws. Make a desperate attempt at saving oneself. For example, He had lost the argument, but he kept grasping at straws, naming numerous previous cases that had little to do with this one. This metaphoric expression alludes to a drowning person trying to save himself by grabbing at flimsy reeds. First recorded in 1534, the term was used figuratively by the late 1600s.

Idioms and Phrases with grasp at straws (2 of 2)


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)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.