The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for an expression to tell someone that you’re at the tipping point of your emotional scale? Are you looking for a veiled warning to get the other person to stop their words or actions? If that’s the case, you could use “the straw that broke the camel’s back” to tell them you’ve had it with their behavior. This post unpacks this expression’s meaning and origin.

Meaning

The “straw that broke the camel’s back” means an action or conversation that causes a person to reach their breaking point. It describes an inflection point and causes a change, either in the situation or in the person’s behavior.

Example Usage

“That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m not willing to do any more of this additional work until you compensate me for it. I don’t work for free, and I demand overtime.”

“Telling Sally that he was out with friends that night was the straw that broke the camel’s back in their relationship. He didn’t realize Sally saw him with her and told Kim about it. Now she’s breaking up with him.”

“Losing that account because of failed record-keeping was the straw that broke the camel’s back for management. They decided to invest in the CRM system at the next management meeting.”

“Getting caught by the police was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my mom. She told me that if the cops ever brought me home, she would send me off to boarding school for good.”

Origin

The origin of the expression “the straw that broke the camel’s back” comes from an Arabic proverb. Some traders in the early days of commerce would load their camel’s back with straw to the point where the camel would buckle under the weight of its cargo.

The earliest use of the expression in print comes from the mid-19th century. It appeared in The Age, an Australian newspaper, published in an article in December 1854, where it appears as follows.

“It was to be remembered that it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Colony ought to do nothing to diminish its credit in the London markets, where it was already so low that nobody would come forward and lend them a shilling.”

Legendary author Charles Dickens also used a similar rendition of the phrase a few years earlier, in 1848, in his work, “Dombey and Son.”

“As the last straw breaks the laden camel’s back, this piece of underground information crushed the sinking spirits of Mr. Dombey.”

Phrases Similar to The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

  • The last straw.
  • The final straw.
  • Upper limit.
  • Breaking-point.

Phrases Opposite to The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

  • Please continue.
  • Don’t stop.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The straw that broke the camel’s back.

Ways People May Say The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back Incorrectly

The saying has nothing to do with camels. The “camel” in this idiomatic expression is an action by another person or entity causing you to react to previous past behavior.

It has nothing to do with animals or breaking backs. The back is the person’s tolerance for the other person’s actions towards them.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

You can use the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back when you’re trying to describe a tipping point. It defines a situation where you’re letting someone know that you are about to react to their repeated bad behavior towards you or other people.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is the final action by another person or entity that sparks the conflagration of the reaction.

You could use it to describe your computer crashing on you being the straw that broke the camel’s back and the reason for you throwing it off your desk in anger. It could also describe the final bad action by your partner that causes you to leave them.

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