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When sharpening blades, knife grinders often tend to bend over the grindstone, or even like flat down with their faces near the grindstone in stimulate to hold the blades versus the stone.

You are watching: Nose to the grindstone idiom meaning

The earliest well-known reference is in john Frith"s A mirrour or glasse to recognize thyselfe in 1532: "This message holdeth your noses so hard to the grindstone, the it clean disfigureth their faces." Frith to be an English good news priest that was arrested in 1532 top top the order of Thomas much more (Lord Chancellor at the time) and burned in ~ the stake a couple of months later on for refusing to renounce his stated belief that neither purgatory nor transubstantiation can be proven. The website phrases.org.uk notes, and also dismisses, a rival explanation the this phrase as comes from the habit the millers to inspect that the stones provided for grinding grain weren"t overheating by putting their sleep to the stones in order to smell any kind of burning. Not only is this an unlikely source as millers occupational millstones, no grindstones (in early on English it seems that millstone and grindstone could have been interchangeable, yet writings indigenous as at an early stage as the 1400s suggest a distinction between them). Included to this, a miller sometimes sniffing the stone to inspect for burning does not show the ethic the persistent tough work that the image of the knife grinder bending perpetually over his stone does.

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