Why do we say "Keep your nose to the grindstone.

Well-Known Expressions

Keep your nose to the grindstone

Meaning:

Apply yourself to your work with perseverance and diligence.

Background:

When sharpening blades, knife grinders tend to bend over the grindstone, or even like flat down with their faces near the grindstone in order to hold the blades against the stone.

The earliest known reference is in John Frith's A mirrour or glasse to know thyselfe in 1532: "This Text holdeth their noses so hard to the grindstone, that it clean disfigureth their faces."

Frith was an English Protestant priest who was arrested in 1532 on the orders of Thomas More (Lord Chancellor at the time) and burned at the stake a few months later for refusing to renounce his stated belief that neither purgatory nor transubstantiation could be proven.

The website phrases.org.uk notes, and dismisses, a rival explanation of this phrase as coming from the habit of millers to check that the stones used for grinding cereal weren't overheating by putting their nose to the stones in order to smell any burning. Not only is this an unlikely source as millers work millstones, not grindstones (in early English it seems that millstone and grindstone might have been interchangeable, but writings from as early as the 1400s indicate a distinction between them). Added to this, a miller occasionally sniffing the stone to check for burning does not illustrate the ethic of persistent hard work that the image of the knife grinder bent perpetually over his stone does.

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: La Belle Sauvage
    La Belle Sauvage
    by Philip Pullman
    Voted 2017 Best Young Adult Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect ...
  • Book Jacket: Killers of the Flower Moon
    Killers of the Flower Moon
    by David Grann
    Voted 2017 Best Nonfiction by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    The long, sorrowful list of injustices done ...
  • Book Jacket: The Dry
    The Dry
    by Jane Harper
    Voted 2017 Best Debut Novel by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    After receiving a letter from his childhood...
  • Book Jacket: Little Fires Everywhere
    Little Fires Everywhere
    by Celeste Ng
    Voted 2017 Best Fiction by BookBrowse's Subscribers

    Small towns, big drama. Acclaimed author ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

"Electrifying . . . as beautiful and as icy as the Minnesota woods where it's set."
—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Strangers in Budapest
    by Jessica Keener

    Strong characters and a riveting plot combine in this psychological thriller set in Budapest.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Autumn

Autumn by Ali Smith

One of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, and a Man Booker Prize Finalist

Enter

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay: $400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.