Has your patience ever worn thin with a situation and you soon realize that it was the tiniest little incident that finally pushed you over the edge into a mental “crisis” or collapse? Us too. That tiny incident must have been the final straw.
As defined in Linda and Roger Flavell’s book Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, “the last/final straw” is an idiom that means “an insignificant event which brings about a final crisis or collapse” (page 284).
After two weeks of international travel and sales meetings that didn’t go as he would have hoped, Daniel was exhausted, feeling ill, and ready to be home with his family. On his trip home, he had a series of flights that totaled 24 hours in the plane and 16 hours of layover time. 1 flight delay, 1 missed flight, and 1 canceled flight later, he was finally on the last flight of the trip. Unfortunately, he was sitting right in front of a crying baby that repeated kicked the back of his seat. For Daniel, this was the final straw.
“The last straw” is an abbreviation of a longer proverb. The proverb, as it currently reads, is as follows: “It’s the last straw that breaks the (laden) camel’s back.” This full proverb was first recorded in Charles Dickens’ book Dombey and Son (1848).*
An earlier version of the proverb is found through the 17th century, when people spoke of “the last feather that breaks the horse’s back.”
Many languages, such as French, Spanish, and Arabic, have proverbs that express the same idea.*
Though it’s an idiom that has much history and many cultures behind it, we still find it just as relevant today’s fast-paced, high-pressure, and high-stress lifestyles.
* Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, Linda and Roger Flavell, page 284-285.