[Ads-l] You cannot push on a string (or a rope)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 2 15:49:57 UTC 2021

The figure of speech in the subject line is often linked to economist
John Maynard Keynes.

"The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs" has an entry:
You cannot push a string (of spaghetti).
First citation is in 1935.

Wikipedia has an entry:
Pushing on a string
First citation is in 1910.

Barry Popik has an entry:
“You can’t push a string” (economics adage)
First citation is in 1910.

I decided to expand the search to include "rope" together with
"string" because the analogy is very similar.
You Cannot Push On a String (Or a Rope)

In 1866 the "attempt to push a rope instead of pulling it" was used as
an analogy within a discussion of the proper ventilation of
underground mines.

The expression "You cannot push upon a string" was employed in 1896 by
a doctor discussing electronic muscle stimulation.

The QI article also includes a November 20, 1970 attribution to John
Maynard Keynes.

Feedback welcome

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list