The etymology of the phrase comes either from Thomas More’s work, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1534), or from a later work by Samuel Richardson — a novel entitled, Clarissa (1748).
The idiom itself is perhaps misinterpreted, as we think of “straws” as that plastic contraption (or, more recently, that environmentally-friendly one made of paper which begins to disintegrate the moment you take your first sip) created as a thin tube for soft drinks and the like.
“Straws”, in older times, however, refers to thin reeds which grow by the side of a river, and a man who is drowning may futilely grasps at such thin reeds in an attempt to save himself. In today’s world, the idiom may imply an act or decision-making process, usually in a state of desperation, without sufficient knowledge or data, leading one to “grasp at straws” — entities which will not help you out of your state of desperation.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition such that the medical condition no longer allows you to perform all of the essential elements of your job, there is often a sense of “grasping at straws” as you flail about trying to retain the shambles of your career.
Conversely, the idiom may also apply at some of the illogical reasonings given by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in denying a Federal Disability Retirement case — of “grasping at straws” to find a basis for denying a FERS Medical Retirement case.
In either case, it is important to contact a disability attorney who specializes in OPM Disability Retirement Law, and begin the process of grabbing onto the substantive basis of a Federal Disability Retirement case, and not allow for the futility of grasping at any straws along a fictional river where desperation should be left to myths, fairytales and idioms of old proverbs.
Robert R. McGill
Lawyer specializing exclusively in Federal Disability Retirement Law