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: For the past few days, a coworker has been taking Emily’s food out of the fridge and eating it, so she wrote her name on a sticky note and put that on her food, but even that didn’t stop him! This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because now Emily is going to confront him.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. The last straw
2. Match in the powder barrel
The camel's back, carrying things

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

Most people have heard of the amazing creature known as the camel, and how these beasts are capable of surviving in the harsh conditions of a desert. Yes, camels can handle the heat well, and they are 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 it, and when they do decide to drink, they are capable of doing so in large quantities—up to 20 gallons or more.

So what are some of the ways that camels have been used for by people? Well, they have been used for traveling purposes; people just hop up onto their backs and off they go. Another use, and this one I want to emphasize a bit, is for carrying things. Yes, the backs of camels have been used to transport goods. Is it possible that people have transported straw on the backs of camels before? Certainly, which brings me to my next point:

The origin of this phrase is unclear. However, there could be a simple explanation for it. My guess would be that when people were loading up the backs of camels with too much straw, the backs or legs of these animals gave out (not break, as it seems more likely that the animal would collapse under the weight of the straw than their backs suddenly snapping from it), thus making it look like the excessive amount of straw had broken the camel’s back. Or perhaps the camel’s back did actually break. In any case, the point is that if this happened enough times, eventually the saying could form it. Hmm, but it is just a guess, after all!

Anyways, when is the first time this phrase appears in writing? The earliest I could find of this saying in print is from the 1850s. For example, it is written in a newspaper published in Melbourne, Australia called The Age, printed in 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.”


Example Sentence(s)

  1. I was becoming impatient because it felt like everything was going wrong this morning, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I accidentally spilled cereal all over the floor.

Note: If you want more animal sayings like this one, go take a look at that page. It has a list of them. If you just want to see more common phrases in general, use the menu up at the top. More are being added, so if you can’t find the one you’re looking for, consider checking back another time.