The phrase 'idiot stick' is a remarkably flexible piece of American slang. It refers to any vaguely stick-shaped tool used by someone who really ought to find something better to do. The term was first used in the Depression era. It referred to a shovel used by ditch-diggers and was described as 'a stick with an idiot at one end and a shovel blade at the other.' However, it has also been used to refer to gardening hoes; a derisive reference to people who would spend all day in the fields when they could escape to the big city.
In the Vietnam war, the term had two meanings, the use of which had, again, rather derogatory implications. It could be used to refer to an infantryman's rifle, or to the yoke used by the Vietnamese to carry buckets or baskets.
The term was also used by some people to refer to the very old style of semaphore turn signals used on early versions of Volkswagen Beetles.
Finally, idiot stick has also been used to refer to the slapstick style of comedy popular in the days of vaudeville:
- Like slapstick comedians straight out of vaudeville, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission members hit themselves with an idiot stick Monday when they voted to recommend banning college sports betting in America.
- John L Smith1