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Children playing jackstraws


jackstraw (plural jackstraws)

  1. (usually plural) One of the pieces used for the game variously called jackstraws or pick-up-sticks.
    • 1856, Matthew C. Perry and Francis L. Hawks, Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, Washington: A.O.P. Nicholson, Volume 1, Chapter 23, p. 466,[1]
      It was a cheerful reminder of one’s childhood, and another bond of sympathy between the various branches of the human race, however remotely separated from each other, to find the little shaven-pated lads playing ball in the streets of Hakodadi, or jackstraws within the domestic circle at home.
    • 1907, John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, Act 3,[2]
      If I wasn’t a good Christian, it’s on my naked knees I’d be saying my prayers and paters to every jackstraw you have roofing your head, and every stony pebble is paving the laneway to your door.
    • 1912, Mary Johnston, Cease Firing, Chapter 5,[3]
      It was late February before the expedition entered the Coldwater, early March before it approached the Tallahatchie. Here it encountered afresh felled trees like endless bundles of jackstraws, thrown vigorously, crossed under water at every imaginable angle.
    • 1983, Jack Vance, Lyonesse, Chapter 24,
      The landlord strode on jackstraw legs across the room.
  2. (dated) An insignificant person.
    • 1692, John Milton, “The Author’s Preface”, in [Joseph Washington], transl., A Defence of the People of England, []: In Answer to Salmasius’s Defence of the King, [London?: s.n.], OCLC 1015453011, pages xvii–xviii:
      [They] had rather be called Sons of the Earth, provided it be their own Earth, (their own Native Country) and act like Men at home, then, being deſtitute of Houſe or Land, to relieve the neceſſities of Nature in a Foreign Country, by ſelling of Smoke, as thou doſt, an inconſiderable Fellow, and a Jack-ſtraw, and who dependeſt upon the good will of thy Maſters for a poor Stipend; [...]
    • 1959, Richard Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy, Cleveland: Meridian, 1963, “What He Was and What He Did—1,” p. 4,[4]
      At the start of 1950, he was a jackstraw in Washington. Then he discovered Communism—almost by inadvertence, as Columbus discovered America, as James Marshall discovered California gold. By the spring of the year, he was a towering figure []


Derived terms[edit]


jackstraw (not comparable)

  1. Resembling a bundle of jackstraws that has been strewn on a surface.
    • 1906, Henry Milner Rideout, “Captain Christy” in The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 98, Number 4, October, 1906, p. 452,[5]
      Along the grass-grown wharves,—silver-gray piles which crumbled at the ends into a jackstraw heap of rotting logs,—there was no human stir.
    • 1990, Stephen King, “The Library Policeman” in Four past Midnight,
      He threw himself down on the far side and saw a white, hellishly misshapen creature pulling itself from beneath a jackstraw tumble of atlases and travel volumes.
  2. (obsolete, of a person) Of no substance or worth.
    • 1754, Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, London, Volume 7, Letter 11, p. 57,[6]
      [] if you are my daughter, you shall wear these for your father’s sake!—How now, madam! Refuse me! I command you on your obedience to accept of this—I will not be a Jack-straw father—