a drowning man will clutch at a straw

One grabs at the slightest chance when all hope is slipping away. Clutch is comparatively recent and is more suggestive of desperation than the earlier catch. To clutch at a straw (or straws) is frequently used as a metaphorical phrase.

1534 MORE Dialogue of Comfort (1553) iii. Lyke a man that in peril of drowning catcheth whatsoeuer cometh next to hand..be it neuer so simple a sticke.

1583 J. PRIME Fruitful & Brief Discourse I. 30 We do not as men redie to be drowned, catch at euery straw.

1623 J. HALL Contemplations VII. xix. 252 The drowning man snatches at every twig... The messengers of Benhadad catch hastily at that stile of grace, and hold it fast.

1748 RICHARDSON Clarissa VII. i. A drowning man will catch at a straw, the Proverb well says.

1877 W. COLLINS My Lady’s Money xv. His gratitude caught at those words, as the drowning man is said to catch at the proverbial straw.

1915 CONRAD Victory IV. viii. Wang seemed to think my insistence..very stupid and tactless. But a drowning man clutches at straws.

1967 RIDOUT & WITTING English Proverbs Explained 49 A drowning man will clutch at a straw.

1967 T. STOPPARD Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead III. 80 We drift down time, clutching at straws. But what good’s a brick to a drowning man?


Proverbs new dictionary.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • clutch (or grasp or catch) at straws — resort in desperation to unlikely or inadequate means of salvation. [from the proverb a drowning man will clutch at a straw.] → straw …   English new terms dictionary

  • clutch at straws — ► clutch at straws resort in desperation to unlikely or inadequate means of salvation. [ORIGIN: from the proverb a drowning man will clutch at a straw.] Main Entry: ↑straw …   English terms dictionary

  • straw — noun 1》 dried stalks of grain, used as fodder or for thatching, packing, or weaving. 2》 a single dried stalk of grain. 3》 a thin hollow tube of paper or plastic for sucking drink from a glass or bottle. 4》 a pale yellow colour like that of straw …   English new terms dictionary

  • man — see man cannot live by bread alone whatever man has done, man may do a man is as old as he feels, and a woman as old as she looks man is the measure of all things man proposes, God disposes man’s extremity is …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • straw — see you cannot make bricks without straw a drowning man will clutch at a straw it is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back straws tell which way the wind blows …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • clutch — see a drowning man will clutch at a straw …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Thematic Index — absence absence makes the heart grow fonder he who is absent is always in the wrong the best of friends must part blue are the hills that are far away distance lends enchantment to the view out of sight, out of mind …   Proverbs new dictionary

  • grasp at straws — ● straw * * * clutch/grasp/at straws phrase to try to find anything at all that will help you or give you hope in a difficult situation, when it is likely that you will find nothing She knew she was clutching at straws, thinking he might help her …   Useful english dictionary

  • hope — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) Confidence Nouns 1. hope[s], desire; trust, confidence, optimism, reliance, faith, belief; assurance, secureness, security; reassurance. See safety. 2. (omen of hope) good omen or auspices, promise; good …   English dictionary for students

  • catch — see you cannot catch old birds with chaff it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice a cat in gloves catches no mice a drowning man will clutch at a straw eagles don’t catch flies …   Proverbs new dictionary

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