Monday, 19 March 2007

Phrase of the Day 48: 'wrong end of the stick'

"to get the wrong end of the stick"

definition: if someone has got the wrong end of the stick, they have misunderstood what someone has said to them.

(naprosto nepochopit, o co jde)

example: "SImon's employer asked him to re-sign his contract (for another year), but he got hold of the wrong end of the stick and thought he had been sacked"

origin: There are two possibliliteis for the origin of this phrase:

1) This phrase refers to a walking stick held upside down, which does not help a walker much. Originating in the 1400s as 'worse end of the staff', this term was changed to the current wording only in the late 1800s.

2) The Romans invented the flush toilet, but not toilet paper; and their lavatories were communal affairs, where one would go and discuss the day's happenings with whoever else was in at the time. Personal cleanliness was addressed with a cloth or a sponge which lived in a bowl of water at one end of the lavatorium, and which was passed from person to person by means of a stick. It is easy to imagine someone deep in conversation not looking when the stick was passed to them, and therefore getting hold of the wrong end of it.