The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back

Meaning:

A series of irritating occurrences that eventually lead to one final thing that causes a person to lose their patience or to react in a strong way.

Example: Emily put some snack foods in the fridge at work for lunch. However, over the past few days, someone has been taking them without permission! She found out who the snack thief was and politely told them to stop, but when the next day came, they did the same thing! This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it resulted in Emily yelling at her coworker.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. The last straw
2. The match in the powder barrel
The last straw that broke the camel's back, a camel in the desert.
“You want me to carry straw? On my back? No way,” said the camel.

The Origin Of “The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back”

Most people have heard of camels before. They are the amazing creatures that have the capability of surviving the harsh conditions of a desert. Yes, camels can handle the heat. They are also able to 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. When they do decide to drink, they are capable of doing so in large quantities—up to 20 gallons or more.

People use camels for a couple different reasons. Firstly, traveling! If you need to get somewhere, hopping on the back of a camel and riding it there can be a good option. Secondly, camels are used to carry things! Yes, the camel’s back is strong, and makes them great at transporting goods from place to place. One of the things they might transport, for example, is straw. And by the sound of this phrase, sometimes too much of it.

Indeed, let me be clear—the origin of this phrase is unknown. However, there could be a simple explanation for how it originated:

Perhaps while getting ready to transport straw, too much of it was placed on a camel’s back. The excessive weight of the straw resulted in the camel’s legs or back giving out (I doubt their backs actually broke, as it seems more likely that the animal would collapse under the weight than their backs suddenly snapping from it). Thus, after the camel collapsed, to onlookers it may have looked as though it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” If this situation happened enough times, eventually I could see how this expression could form. Anyways, while that’s just speculation, here’s what is actually known:

The earliest appearance of this phrase in print (that I could find) is from the the middle of the 19th century. For example, it’s printed 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.


Example Sentence(s)

  • 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.

Note: 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 unrelated to animals, simply use the menu at the top.

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