The phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back‘ means… a string of annoyances that eventually lead to one final irritation that causes a person to lose their patience.
Example: This week has left Bella tired and frustrated. Now at work, she went to grab her food from the office fridge, only to realize that someone has taken it without her permission! This was the straw that broke the camel’s back; she found the coworker responsible and yelled at them.
The Origin Of “The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back”
You probably know what a camel is, they are the amazing creatures with the hump on their backs! These animals are capable of surviving the harsh conditions of a desert. They can go long periods of time without water. For example, the Dromedary camel—a kind of camel that has one hump—can go about 10 days without water. In addition, when they do decide to drink, they can do so in large quantities—up to 20 gallons or more at a time.
So where does this phrase come from? Well, it might have to do with how people make use of camels for transportation purposes. Since camel’s have strong backs, they can transport goods, such as straw, from place to place. And based on what this phrase says, too much straw at that!
While getting ready to transport straw, people loaded too much on the camel’s back. The excessive weight of the straw resulted in the camel’s legs or back giving out (maybe even some cases, the back even broke). Thus, after the camel collapsed, onlookers might have thought it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” If this situation was common enough, I could see how this expression would form from it.
Anyway, the earliest appearance of this phrase in print (that I could find) is from the the middle of the 19th century. For example, in the newspaper The Age, published in Melbourne, Australia, December 1854:
“It was to be remembered that it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Colony ought to do nothing to diminish its credit in the London markets, where it was already so low that nobody would come forward and lend them a shilling.”
This means the idiom is at least over 160 years old.
- It felt like everything was going wrong this morning, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I accidentally spilled my cereal on the floor.
- My brother coming in my room and making a bunch of noise was the last straw; I told him to get out.
Tip: If you want to see more expressions like this one, we have a list of animal sayings that you can check out. For more common phrases in general, simply use the menu at the top.