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!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Summer Before the War
    by Helen Simonson
    Set on the cusp of World War I, The Summer Before the War exudes strength and spirit as a small town...
  • Book Jacket: Lincoln in the Bardo
    Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders
    George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is a philosophy discourse brilliantly disguised as a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Tender
    by Belinda McKeon
    Most of us have heard the slightly trite saying: "If you love something, set it free." But one can ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Sellout
by Paul Beatty

The first book by an American author to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    A Piece of the World
    by Christina Baker Kline

    A stunning novel of friendship, passion, and art from the #1 bestselling author of Orphan Train.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    I See You
    by Clare Mackintosh

    A dark and compelling thriller about an everyday woman trapped in the confines of her everyday world.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

In youth we run into difficulties. In old age difficulties run into us

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

and be entered to win..

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.