straw in the wind

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straw in the wind

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Dec 04, 2005 8:03 pm

In this morning’s Sunday Times I read:
<2005 “Hillary, STRAW IN THE WIND of an Iraq deal: A good indicator of the way the wind is blowing in Washington is often the position of Senator Hillary Clinton. A human weather-vane, Clinton has been a long-time supporter of the Iraq war, . . . Now, as with the rest of Washington, she’s shifting a little with the breeze.”—‘The Sunday Times,’ 4 December>
Hmm. ‘Hillary the human weather vane,’ that’s good – and I’m not necessarily anti-Hillary.

STRAW IN THE WIND: A clue, indication, or test of public opinion or some other matter; a slight but significant hint of the future. <“The public unrest is a straw in the wind indicating future problems for the regime”>. The term draws the analogy between throwing a straw up into the air to test which way the wind is blowing and a test of some issue of interest (same observation is one explanation behind the expression straw vote or poll. The idea, with slightly different wording, appears in print from the mid-17th century on. In circa 1654 John Selden wrote in ‘Table-Talk: Libels’:
<“Take a straw and throw it up into the Air, you shall see by the that which way the wind is.”>
And by 1799 William Cobbett in his ‘Porcupine Works’ the expression “Straws served to show which way the wind blows” was described as ‘an old hackneyed proverb.’
1856 “The recurrence to the long-abandoned practice of life-peerages is one ‘STRAW IN THE WIND,’ and the decided recognition of ‘individual instances of merit and valor,’ no matter how low the rank of the person, may be taken as another.”—‘New York Times, 7 March, page 4>

<1898 “I don’t believe in the way they got the [[political]] victory [[large infusions of money]]. It is only a sign of the times, a STRAW IN THE WIND, but it shows unmistakably how the gale will blow.”—‘New York Times,’ 18 March, page 4>

<1926 “Taking this fact [[that committee is preparing memorandum on methods of study]] as a STRAW IN THE WIND, we may safely infer that the majority of high-school graduates do not study really well.”—‘The English Journal,’ Vol. 15, No. 3, page 829>

<1898 “I don’t believe in the way they got the [[political]] victory [[large infusions of money]]. It is only a sign of the times, a STRAW IN THE WIND, but it shows unmistakably how the gale will blow.”—‘New York Times,’ 18 March, page 4>

<1932 “Even the poll of the pro-Roosevelt Hearst papers, a small STRAW IN THE WIND, showed a Hoover lead in New England, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.”— ‘Time Magazine.’ 19 September>

<1963 “In any case, the campaign is already under way. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan threw a STRAW IN THE WIND by re-appointing hardheaded Lord Poole as co-chairman of the party with Leader of the House Iain Macleod.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 3 May>

<2002 “And lately STRAWS IN THE WIND that often give advance warning of changes in official statistics, like mall traffic, have been blowing the wrong way.”—‘New York Times,’ 2 August, page A21>
(Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms>
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Ken G – December 4, 2005
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