Keep Your Nose to the grindstone

Language from Milling

While you are tucking into your toast at breakfast this weekend I thought you may be interested to learn of some of the every day phrases which came about through the process by which you get your bread, or more specifically to the milling process of the grain to make flour.

On a trip to the beautiful, historic city of Winchester, well known as a place a packed with history from Alfred the Great to the Romans, the Tudors and Jane Austen, I decided to drop in to the City Mill and I was so glad I did.

The mill was working that day, milling flour which, along with recipe cards, was available to buy in the shop.
Henry Fitzroy
There is a lot to know about milling flour it turns out! The staff were extremely knowledgable too...and vigilant, as they must be whilst the mill is in operation. Flour dust, as you may or may not know, is explosive! I am always fascinated by the origins of language and the mill provided a number of finds to add to my ‘collection’, well known sayings that originate in the milling industry.
Henry Fitzroy - Horenbout Minature
'Keep your nose to the grindstone'
The millstones must never be allowed to run without grain. They quickly wear out and could even cause sparks which would set fire to the mill. A quick sniff of the stones would tell you if they were getting hot, hence the phrase!
'Fair to Middling'
The quality of the flour was graded fair, middling or fine. If you are feeling 'fair to middling' you're not at your best!
'First come first served'
A strict rule of milling to prevent impatient farmers jumping the queue!
'Show your mettle'
Millstones were often re-carved by travelling stone dressers. If the stone dresser had tiny slivers of metal embedded in his hands and forearms (which would have been thrown up from his stone cutting tools) the miller knew that he was experienced.
'Rule of Thumb'
Millers would test the quality and grind of the flour by rubbing a small quantity between finger and thumb. From this they would know if it were too fine or coarse and could change the conditions to rectify the grind.
First Come First Served
Show Your Mettle
Rule Of Thumb

Written by Philippa Brewell

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