the straw that broke the camel´s back
Posted: 05 September 2007 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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is it a coinage from the Arabic culture? If so, how did it come into English?, we´ve got a similar expression in Spanish, la gota que colmó el vaso “the drop that overflowed the glass”

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Posted: 05 September 2007 10:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs gives these early citations:

1655, J Bramhall, Defence of True Liberty and Human Actions:
“It is the last feather may be said to break an Horses back”

1793 in Publications of Colonial Society of Massachusetts:
“It is certainly true that the last feather will sink the camel”

1848, Dickens, Dombey and Son:
“As the last straw breaks the laden camel’s back…”

It goes on to cite several later examples using “straw” and “camel”, so it may well be that the huge popularity of Dickens’s work helped to fix the saying in that form, just as he seems single-handedly to have introduced “give the cold shoulder”. Or perhaps the saying was already stabilising in that form.

If the animal cited was indeed originally a horse, clearly there’s no need to look for an Arabic origin, but possibly there has been some Arabic influence, or why drag camels into it? Perhaps some parallel saying from the Thousand and One Nights, which I believe were first published in French and English translation in 1704 and 1706 respectively?

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Posted: 06 September 2007 12:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It may interest you to know that the Dutch version is ‘de druppel die de emmer deed overlopen’ (the drop that made the bucket overflow)

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Posted: 06 September 2007 01:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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thanks

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Posted: 10 September 2007 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Sink the camel’ is an odd thought applied to a creature famed for it’s hardiness in dry conditions and not that famous for swimming!

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Posted: 10 September 2007 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Although that’s the first image that comes to mind for the modern reader, there is this among the transitive senses of “sink” in the OED2:
“17. To cause (a thing) to descend or fall to a lower plane or level; to force, press, or weigh down in any way.” Some citations:

1678 MOXON Mech. Exerc. iv. 71 Keep the Iron in this Posture, without either mounting, or sinking its ends. 1712 J. JAMES tr. Le Blond’s Gardening 65 The Rain forcing down the Earth, and sinking the Seed. 1787 Phil. Trans. LXXVIII. 44 The blast from an air-gun was repeatedly thrown on the bulb of a thermometer, and it uniformly sunk it about two degrees. 1814 SCOTT Ld. of Isles V. xxx, He raised the page, where on the plain His fear had sunk him with the slain.

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Posted: 10 September 2007 01:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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flynn999 - 10 September 2007 06:58 AM

Sink the camel’ is an odd thought applied to a creature famed for it’s hardiness in dry conditions and not that famous for swimming!

The camel is not called “the ship of the desert” for nothing.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 05:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Myridon - 10 September 2007 01:11 PM

The camel is not called “the ship of the desert” for nothing.

I hadn’t thought of that!

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