Grist to the mill and millstone grit

There is nothing which makes you feel more silly than loudly proclaiming a hilarious joke which depends on a play on words and then find you’ve muddled yourself completely by misremembering what the actual words are… I was trying to say something comical about ‘grist to the mill’ and ‘millstone grit’… on this occasion, luckily I realised before I opened my mouth and saved myself any embarrassment!

Grist to the mill means that something is of worth or value – or has the potential for profit, not necessarily financial; the word grist, as you might guess from the sound of it is Old English and means grinding something, or something that is going to be ground such as grain. The grist or grain going to the mill would become very profitable once it had been ground – I wonder if grist could also be a verb so the grain could be gristed? The actual phrase is also probably quite old, and recorded going back to the early 1500’s.

Something I learned when I was looking at these two similar meanings is that oats which have been husked – but not ground – were called grit, and the word grit used here comes from the same root, meaning something to do with being ground. As far as I can understand it, the two words grits (as in hominy grits, a sort of porridge) and grist have the same origin.

Millstone grit is a type of sandstone found in northern England and because of its coarse texture it was ideal for making millstones – as you can guess from the name! So millstone grit grinds grist… but the word grit here, associated with the rock comes from another Old English word which meant sand, or small particles of rock… and I guess the idea of a hard stone which can grind something is how the use of grit in the sense of being brave or determined arose… and that was first known to have been used at the turn of the nineteenth century.



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