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: All Our Wrong Todays
    All Our Wrong Todays
    by Elan Mastai
    You need a great deal of time to read All Our Wrong Todays, but don't let that put you off. ...
  • Book Jacket: Dadland
    Dadland
    by Keggie Carew
    In her notable debut, Keggie Carew examines the life of her father Tom, a decorated war hero whose ...
  • Book Jacket: Piecing Me Together
    Piecing Me Together
    by Renee Watson
    Race and class in American culture certainly dominate the news right now. These two things seem to ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

In the spirit of The Aviator's Wife, this resonant debut spans from World War II through the Vietnam War.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Our Short History
    by Lauren Grodstein

    Lauren Grodstein breaks your heart, then miraculously pieces it back together so it's stronger, than before.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lola
    by Melissa Scrivner Love

    An astonishing debut crime thriller about an unforgettable woman.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don'...

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

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O My D B

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.

 
Modal popup -