General Question

gailcalled's avatar

What does "to shake a stick at" mean now?

Asked by gailcalled (54575points) July 6th, 2007

I can hazard a guess as to derivation but now the sense is less of a martial defense and more benign.

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5 Answers

figbash's avatar

I think the actual origins on this are still unclear, but the "shaking of the stick part" seems to stem from a gesture of threatening with an actual stick, with the original meaning loosely being "more than one can threaten." These days, it's used to indicate a large number of something, i.e. "more than you can shake a stick at" - which would imply that the actual number is more intimidating than the threatening stick shaking behavior. I know, that sounds wacky. Here are some additional links:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha2.htm

http://www.yaelf.com/aueFAQ/mifmrthnycnshkstck.shtml

cederber's avatar

I've always thought the point was just that it requires so little effort to shake a stick at something. I.e. "more than you can shake a stick at" = so many that you can't even do that. I think this interpretation applies well to the archaic examples cited in the first worldwidewords link, e.g. "nothing worth shaking a stick at" = nothing deserving of even the most minor consideration. I don't really see how the threatening nature of a certain type of stick-shaking is alluded to by any of the citations.

Mtl_zack's avatar

I think it means to threaten in the European/African dialect but to do something easily in American dialect

gailcalled's avatar

@Mil zack; what do you mean by European/African dialect and concomitantly, American dialect? Those terms mean nothing to me.

Mtl_zack's avatar

Languages evolve, so maybe when the Europeans came to America, the term for threatened somehow changed to to easily do something. This can be because of a war, event, craze, or anything else that affects the people who use the phrase. These differences are known as dialects

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