Carrot, stick

Bizarro takes on English idioms involving a carrot and a stick:

There’s been a lot of passionate argument about whether “carrot and stick” or “carrot on a stick” is the original and/or “correct” variant of the expression. The arguments are mostly about the inherent plausibility of one or the other of the images; the textual evidence doesn’t come down clearly on one side or the other. For some recent surveys, look at Paul Brians here. Michael Quinion here, and Jan Freeman here.

Jan Freeman suggests an amicable resolution: the possibility that the two expressions arose independently, both building on the idea of a carrot as an inducement.

4 Responses to “Carrot, stick”

  1. Mac Mintaka Says:

    Our ancestors must have had a thing for carrots!

  2. Emily Says:

    In the version I’ve heard, the person(or rather a donkey) is led along by having a carrot dangled in front of it and by being hit or poked with a stick from behind. My source is a children’s book, namely The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, in which the idiom is explicitly explained with that imagery.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Emily: this is one of the two stories (both discussed in the links I provided). There’s not much point in collecting votes or opinions, because there are many people who are absolutely sure that one of the stories is “correct”, and many who are absolutely sure that the other one is, and the textual evidence isn’t especially clear.

  4. mollymooly Says:

    I have never understood why anybody would view “carrot-and-stick” as *incorrect*. Even supposing it to be a corruption of “carrot-on-a-stick” –which I doubt– it is a usefully concise alternative to such circumlocutions as “a combination of threats and promises”, “positive and negative incentives”, etc. The “carrot-on-a-stick”, even if happens to be an older image, is far less useful: as a once-off joke it’s fine, but I’ve never heard anyone deploy it in anger as a synonym for “empty promise”.

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