In the Sticks – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to indicate to someone that you (or someone else) can be found in an area that’s “off the beaten track” and not in the main part of the city? The saying ‘in the sticks’ can be used to say what you mean, and the colloquial term is popular especially when you’re out of the city. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The meaning of the term ‘in the sticks’ is a figurative saying that is generally used to mean that a location (or sometimes, the location of a person) is out in the countryside, or far away from what would be considered city civillization.

The correct way to use the expression is to say that someone ‘lives in the sticks’ or ‘stays out in the sticks’ to mean that they live in a less frequented and sometimes isolated area.

The term can sometimes be used to just mean the country as opposed to the city.

The saying ‘in the sticks’ can sometimes be spelled wrong as a reference to Styx, the river, which is incorrect.

Sometimes the term can be used as an insult, though does not always carry a negative meaning when it gets used.

The implication of saying that someone lives in the sticks is that they are rural, or that they live far away from the city. Sometimes, the term implies a long-distance, or driving a far way from the origin destination which is ‘not in the sticks’ unlike the final destination.

The term can also be used in the negative form, to deny that someone lives ‘in the sticks’ instead.

Example Usage

“It’s going to take at least three hours to get to grandpa’s house from here. When he got divorced from my grandmother, he decided to live out in the sticks.”

“Everyone called my father dumb when he bought his first property in the sticks, but today he’s a wealthy man thanks to his investment in the industry. Who’s laughing at everyone now?”

“If you live out in the sticks, then you should know it’s going to take you a very long time to get your shopping done every month.”

“We lived out in the sticks for months, but we eventually moved to the city because we didn’t want to pay so much money for gas to get to work.”

Origin

The origin of the term ‘in the sticks’ or ‘out in the sticks’ can be tracked back to an early American expression that was first printed in newspapers in the late 1800s.

According to most online language resources, the term was first used in the Florence Times back in 1897 – and after this, the expression made it to more popular international use through magazines, books and popular media.

The term is said to have its meaning rooted in areas that have a lot of ‘sticks’ to mean the rural area or countryside, as opposed to cities that have asphalt or gravel to replace the ‘sticks’ that are figuratively mentioned in the expression.

The term owes part of its origin to the term ‘stick’, which was one of the earliest English words dating from at least the tenth century.

Website Urban Dictionary records the term first in 2003, though there are several entries that record this term. It is apparent that the term was in common and popular use a long time before this.

Phrases Similar to In the Sticks

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Phrases Opposite to In the Sticks

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What is the Correct Saying?

  • [out] in the sticks
  • in the sticks

Ways People May Say In the Sticks Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can use the term ‘in the sticks’ in the wrong way, or misunderstand the meaning of the expression when it has been used.

Someone can say that someone lives ‘in the sticks’ or that a location is ‘in the sticks’ to mean that it’s rural or away from the city, sometimes the term can also be used to indicate the need to travel a long distance away from everything.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase In the Sticks

The right way to use the term ‘in the sticks’ is to indicate that something is far away from the city, literally in the areas that would have ‘sticks’ where city-based areas would have asphalt or gravel instead.

Someone or something can be located ‘in the sticks’ or the term can be used in the denying form to indicate that something isn’t.

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