The idiom “squeezing water from a stone” makes very little sense until you understand its meaning and origin. This article will explore both ideas and show you how to start using them yourself (we’ll also include all the variations we know).
What Does “Squeezing Water From A Stone” Mean?
“Squeezing water from a stone” means that something is an impossible feat. We use it when we refer to a person who is too stubborn to give up information or something else when we need it (i.e., “asking for your help is like squeezing water from a stone”).
It’s also common to hear people say “getting blood out of a stone” rather than “water” to indicate the absurdity of achieving such a feat.
The definition of “getting blood out of a stone,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “to make someone give or tell you something when it is extremely difficult because of the character or mood of the person or organization you are dealing with.”
Some other variations you might come across include:
- Getting blood from a stone
- Getting blood out of a stone
- Squeezing blood from a stone
- Squeezing blood out of a stone
- Getting water out of a stone
- Getting blood from a turnip
Story and Origin of the saying “Squeezing water from a stone”
There are conflicting stories that show the origin of the saying “squeezing water from a stone.” It will help you to learn a little more about the most famous ones when it comes to using them yourself.
Giant Slayer Fairy Tale
The first story is that of a “giant-slayer” (who was a simple shoemaker). A giant arrived in his village, and he was elected to confront the giant in the hopes of banishing him.
In this fairy tale, the “giant-slayer” challenged the giant to a feat of strength. The feat was to squeeze water from a stone, to which the giant agreed and picked up the largest boulder to do so. Of course, the giant failed and did not get any water out of the boulder.
However, the fairy tale is made interesting when the “giant-slayer” pulls out a small yellow stone from his bag and squeezes it with some effort. After a short while, the yellow stone leaks, and water comes out of it, which sends the giant out of the village after admitting defeat.
The yellow stone turned out to be a block of cheese, but what the giant didn’t know couldn’t harm the shoemaker for using his wits.
There is also a biblical origin for the word. This origin story is actually a little different and changes the meaning of the phrase ever so slightly.
In Exodus 17:6, a passage reads, “strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” It was God speaking to Moses to instruct him to do so in front of a group of Israeli elders.
When Moses strikes the rock, water indeed comes out of it. This variation shows that God is capable of the impossible things with a single “strike.”
While it’s clear that water cannot come out of a rock, God and Moses made it possible. In this sense, the meaning of the phrase shows that God is capable of all kinds of miracles and that you must trust in him if you want to experience those for yourself.
How do you use the saying “Squeeze water from a stone”?
To help you understand when it’s best to use it, we’ll include some examples of situations and sentences that require it. You might come across some of these yourself, so make sure you know when it’s best to write.
“Squeeze water from a stone” is an old-fashioned phrase that doesn’t get used much today. However, many native speakers still understand what it means, so it works well if you can use it yourself.
- Trying to borrow money from my father is like trying to squeeze water out of a stone!
- You’re impossible to get along with! Trying to talk sense into you is like squeezing water from a stone.
- I don’t understand math. Honestly, learning it and understanding it is like trying to squeeze water out of a stone.
- This is a ridiculous idea, and completing it would be akin to squeezing blood from a stone.
- I don’t like asking him for help; he never says a word, and it’s like getting water out of a stone.
- Trying to get you to do what I want is like getting water from a stone!
- Talking to my friends is like trying to squeeze water from a stone; I really don’t know why I associate with them.
- Nothing is impossible, except for squeezing water out of a stone. There’s no way anyone can do that.
- I’ll marry you if you find a way to squeeze water out of a stone. Otherwise, I’m not interested.
From these examples, we can use the phrase to talk about how difficult (or impossible) it is to do something.
Whether it’s something we’ve tried and failed at (like math in example 3) or something we aren’t interested in (like marriage in example 9), we use it to mean that it’s an impossibility.
Many people understand the phrase means that something is impossible. We can also use any of the variations, and most native speakers will understand what you’re trying to say.
While many don’t know the direct origins of the phrase, idioms have a funny way of becoming mainstream phrases in English.
Does “Squeezing blood from a stone” mean the same thing?
“Squeezing blood from a stone” means the same as it does if we use “water” in the phrase. “Blood” is more extreme than “water,” so the phrase seems more impossible than the “water” one, but, otherwise, they both mean the same thing.
If you want to show that something is beyond capabilities, then “blood” might be the better option of the two. Many people see “blood” as a more impactful word than “water,” which shows how the idiom works slightly better in this case.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.