Wednesday, February 22, 2017


In talking to a friend about cliches, I mentioned that the old saying "HAVING AN AXE TO GRIND" has a totally different meaning today than it did with my mother's generation.  

I told him that about a time, more than twenty years ago, when my mother used the term because she thought someone was taking advantage of me.   She quipped, "Methinks he has an axe to grind."  I told her I did not understand her meaning.  She told me emphatically that she knew the derivation and I should ask other people.

Because of Mother's challenge, I conducted a survey of people of her generation (memorably, Carl Wilt, Mose Wilson, my friend's mother Shirley, and Mrs. Cooper)and all agreed that my mother was correct as it meant to have a selfish or ulterior motive.  

See the accompanying text about Ben Franklin's usage: There was a stranger interested in using Ben's grindstone.  Franklin demonstrated how it worked by sharpening the stranger's axe--a task which required a lot of hard work--it dawned on Ben that was what the stranger had clearly intended,  leaving Franklin forever suspicious of others who might have "an axe to grind"--a secret motive to get something done.  

Today's usage means having a grievance and seeking retribution.  I rather like the old message.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I asked my mother and she remembers it the way your mother did. ML