definition of carrot on a stick

an original definition by J. E. Brown

carrot on a stick
n., metaphor
  1. A trick said to work on tired or stubborn horses: If a rider mounts a horse and dangles a carrot in front of the horse on the end of a long stick, the horse will move forward to get the carrot. Of course, the carrot is connected to the stick, which is connected to the rider, who is connected to the horse, and they all move together because they can’t move separately. This may temporarily trick the horse into believing he can ever reach the carrot, but the horse will never get closer to the carrot than a dog gets to catching his own tail.
  2. The carrot-on-a-stick metaphor is used when describing sales situations where the customer exaggerates his interest in a product or service, exaggerates his commitment or urgency or willingness to proceed with a project, or exaggerates his budget, all in an effort to make himself look more important to the salesman; also where the customer makes promises about word-of-mouth advertising in exchange for a salesman’s offer of a lower price.
  3. Carrot-on-a-stick situations can also occur in romantic breakups, when one partner says “I like you as a friend” or “We can still be friends,” relying on the other partner’s ignorance or inexperience or unawareness that these statements are well-known smokescreens for breakups. {Source: “Definition of carrot on a stick” by J. E. Brown.}

Shared Meaning Element: Whenever person X offers person Y a benefit which Y can’t have, “carrot on a stick” describes that benefit, especially in cases where X offers the benefit deceptively, knowing that Y can never reach or attain it.

In situation 2, the person receiving the promise (the experienced businessman) knows that the customer’s promise of word-of-mouth rarely delivers any sales, while in situation 3, the person making the promise (the person initiating the breakup) already knows that the friendship is over. This illustrates how carrot-on-a-stick tactics can be used or occur with or without an intent to deceive, as situation 2 is based on the customer’s naive wishful thinking, not deception.

Related Concepts: {Read this comp1ete article at .}

  • false promises, insincerity, leading someone on, mislead, mixed messages, mixed signals, toy with (someone).

Excerpts from my book (in progress)

If you don’t want to get hit with sticks, don’t put carrots on them.

— J. E. Brown

1st edition 31 Mar 2015

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