What’s the origin of the phrase “carrot and stick”? You always hear people using it to mean a combination of reward and punishment, for example, “I take a carrot-and-stick approach to my son’s grades; for every A he brings home, he gets to spend 30 minutes in his room with my collection of old Hustlers, but for every C, he has to clean the birdshit off my car for a month.” In this case, the carrot would be the Hustlers (reward) and the birdshit would be the stick (punishment, as if the stick were used to hit you).
I seem to recall an old Little Rascals cartoon where they have a donkey pulling a cart, and to get the donkey to start pulling, a kid hangs a carrot tied to the end of a stick in front of the donkey, so he keeps walking towards it. Isn’t this the “carrot and stick” idea? Both the carrot and stick are involved in the incentive. Nobody gets hit with the stick. Or am I full of beans?
kinda… you wave the carrot in front of the donkey and you hit it on the ass with the stick.
I’ve always known it as carrot on a stick (i.e. the stick is merely to enable the carrot to be extended in front of the donkey’s nose and thus encourage it to walk).
I think the idea of the double-sided carrot=reward/stick=punishment came afterwards (possibly quite recently) as a wordplay on the carrot and stick theme.
Washee Ironee, but the critter was actually a goat. There was a different one with a mule called “Algebra,” Honky Donkey, but that one didn’t involve a carrot. The mule “went” if someone sneezed, and “stopped” when it heard a bell (or alarm).
I’m sorry to say that Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins agrees with the “carrot at one end, stick at the other” argument, though the evidence it offers boils down to a Churchill quote that may or may not exist and a half-remembered snatch of Humphrey Bogart dialogue.
"We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and with a stick”…
I’m not sure which idea is truly older, but neither can be considered recent. The last time this came up, I tracked both back to almost the 1920s. (I may not have posted my answers since they were pretty inconclusive.)
The cartoon of the sleepy trabajero sitting on a cart being pulled by a donkey chasing a dangling carrot was a favorite of such periodicals as the New Yorker. On the other hand, I found sever 1930’s references that indicated “lure with the carrot while threatening to beat with the stick.”
beagle came up with a link to this discussion on a British Phrasefinder Message Board in the thread this past April.