from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A person who is set up as a cover or front for a questionable enterprise.
- n. An argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated.
- n. A bundle of straw made into the likeness of a man and often used as a scarecrow.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A doll or scarecrow (particularly one stuffed with straw).
- n. An insubstantial concept, idea, endeavor or argument, particularly one deliberately set up to be weakly supported, so that it can be easily knocked down; especially to impugn the strength of any related thing or idea.
- n. An innocuous person or someone of nominal or lesser importance, as a front man or straw boss.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. a person used as a cover for some questionable activity
- n. a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted
- n. an effigy in the shape of a man to frighten birds away from seeds
Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1986 passim, shows first known usages for things insubstantial date to 1585-95. Universal Dictionary of the English Language, 1897, Vol 4, p. 4485, notes "man of straw" as "The figure of a man formed of an old suit of clothes stuffed with straw; hence, the mere resemblance of a man; one of no substance or means; an imaginary person." (Wiktionary)