There are about as many stories as to where this saying originated as there are descriptors for what kind of end of the stick one may get! Because this idiom is centuries old, it’s seen many changes, and with each change comes another origin! Here are some of my favorites!
The earliest printed use of this phrase, that I could find, dates back to the mid 1500’s, and though its translation equates to ‘The worse end of the Staff,’ the meaning basically remains. The worse end, the bottom of the staff, was considered dirty, rough and unpleasant where the top may have been decorated with gold and jewels! Honestly, which end would you rather have?
Another story, they say, takes place just after the 1500’s, having to do with record keeping at a mostly illiterate time in history. Apparently, when there were loan transactions made, instead of receipts or a ledger, they would notch a stick with several markings. This stick would be split in half so at a later date, the two halves could be matched, therefore identifying the transaction! One half would then be cut shorter than the other, not marring the notches of course, and was given to the debtor, hence, the ‘Short end of the Stick!’
A third possible origin has to do with swordplay. Though I’m not certain when this version of the phrase was adopted, I’m pretty sure it was when people more commonly used swords! Swords, as we know, have handles, hilts, grips, etc. The other end is sharp! If someone were to give another person the sharp end of the sword, it meant that person was being stabbed or threatened. Neither are good! Getting the ‘Sharp end of the Stick’ meant someone else had the upper hand!
As far as the ‘Shit end of the Stick,’ I think we can all imagine what that’s about!!
Avoid the stick!