Wednesday, February 22, 2017
AN AXE TO GRIND
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.