Keep your nose to the grindstone

charles_ii_cartoonWeekend Edition

Does it happen to you, or just me? I’ll be talking to someone and will use a particular expression, only to have it jump right out at me like I’ve heard it for the first time- with full meaning.

We all use cliches and colloquialisms when we talk. I usually don’t pay them any attention unless I am giving a speech or talking to someone from a different part of the country, or a different country. Then I listen to what I am saying from their perspective.


And while I may know what a given expression means, many times I’ve never stopped to think about the actual words used in the expression.

Keep your nose to the grindstone is one of these expressions.We know it means to labor at a task, to work really hard at a job or chore, but I realized for the first time it comes from the early knife making days.

Sorry, maybe I’m just slow, but I had never thought about the words.

Knife grinders bent over the stone or laid flat on their fronts, with their faces near the stone.  

Here’s what I found out about it from Gary Martin, author of Meanings and Origins. His site (The Phrase Finder) grew out of an interest in language and while working in a research project in computational linguistics at Sheffield Hallam University.

He found the first example of this phrase in 1532 by an English gentleman- Mr. John Frith.

nosetogrindstoneIn 1910, it was well enough known in rural USA to have started being used in jokes on stage.

Published in: on February 7, 2009 at 8:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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