‎Clutch At A Straw

Meanings of “Clutch At A Straw”

The phrase “clutch at a straw” means to try some other route when in desperation, or find something to live on even if it is not that significant, or try desperately to stay alive even if it is an impossibility.

Origin of “Clutch At A Straw”

The phrase “clutch at a straw” is stated to have appeared in the middle of the 19th century, though, it originated from King James Bible from Timothy 6:12 which is about “Fight the good fight to faith, lay hold on eternal life.”

Later Sir Thomas More is stated to have used a similar phrase in his book, A Dialogue of Comfort, published in 1534 where it goes thus: “A man in peril of drowning catchest whatsoever cometh next to hand … be it never so simple a stick.” This has evolved into “catch at a straw” which is also used as “grasp at a straw.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Clutching At Straw by Brian Wake

An unexamined life, thought Daniel,
settling for the night on an eiderdown
of lions, is not a life at all.

I was hardly born until a little while ago,
testing the hunger of these beasts,
daring my ten-to-the dozen heart
to beat as never before.

Not anymore, he thought. Not anymore.
No more Daniel what’s-his-name
with television seven nights a week,
and adventure – someone knocking
at the door. Not anymore. Not anymore.

Up like a lark, he thought. Up like a lark.
I’ll pace the cage and gauge my space,
and I’ll not clutch at strands of straw
but roar, like them, for meat and even bite
the hand of anyone that feeds me.

This poem is about the life of Daniel, compared to Daniel from the Old Testament. He states that he would enter the lions’ den to show that he is a very brave fellow but then a thought strikes him that the reality of his life has just dawned upon him as if he is just born. He states that some anonymous person, showing such plays on television is not going to be his game. He would rather fly away like a lark and not seek to save his life when putting himself before the lions. The phrase has been used in the third last line to show that the poet does not want that kind of life.

Example #2

Clutch at Straws by Vitja

I don’t know what it was
To clutch at a straw
Moving forward a long way to fall
I’m no longer the mouse in your claws
I won’t fail myself again
I can see the blue sky
I can breath within

Forever it will be denied for you
To enter my life
You say that I turn for nothing
At least nothing is something
At least

And you’re not even nothing

In the above lines, the singer vows that he is not going to fail again as he does not know the meanings of “clutch at a straw.” He thinks that he has the courage to see the blue sky and refused to entertain or accept his beloved saying that she is nothing, and worse, even not worth that nothing. Therefore, he would not consider her anything that is determined to see him failed.

Example #3

The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean by R. M. Ballantyne

Indeed, it was with difficulty that Jack got it out of my grasp when I was lying insensible on the shore. I cannot understand why I kept such a firm hold of this telescope. They say that a drowning man will clutch at a straw. Perhaps, it may have been some such feeling in me, for I did not know that it was in my hand at the time were wrecked. However, we felt some pleasure in having it with us now, although we did not see that it could be of much use to us, as the glass at the small end was broken to pieces.

The narrator discusses the shipwreck and his hold on the telescope, saying that it was perhaps like a straw in his hands that he clutched to it. In fact, he has used the phrase in its literal sense as there is a mention of a shipwreck during which he caught hold of the telescope and came out of the sea with it.

Example #4

The Story of My Eyes by Barker Ellis

I listened to her with the deepest skepticism. I said to myself that if it should indeed be possible to improve the eyes very greatly by exercises, etc., one of the five or six leading specialists whom I had consulted out surely to be acquainted with the fact and out to have told me what to do. However, a drowning man will clutch at a straw. I resolved to follow the lady’s directions.

This passage is about a character who cannot see properly. He consults different specialists but comes to nothing. However, a lady directs him to follow a procedure. Seeing no way out he thinks that he should “clutch at this straw” which may prove a panacea for him. The phrase has been used in its metaphorical sense for the last treatment available to him.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Sometimes you may not have an option but clutch at a straw to save your life when drowning, which means taking help from an enemy.”

Example #2: “Robbie was working very hard to finish the project alone like clutching at a straw without anyone to help.”

Example #3: “Marcus is trying to clutch at a straw-like drowning ant mounts on a leave.”

Example #4: “Even during this pandemic with so many people losing their job, many were clutching at a straw as they didn’t want to give up. That is courage.”

Example #5: “Don’t be shy or embarrassed if you are clutching at a straw. This only means you are hardworking and don’t accept failure easily.”