Links with Our Language
Words and phrases that came from mills e.g. see
- to have a millstone around one’s neck is a graphic reference to the heaviest,
most intractable object that anyone in a village would ever encounter.
- To be put, or to go through the mill means to be exposed to hardship or rough
treatment, just like corn being ground
- keeping your nose to the grindstone. The most important possessions of the
miller were his pairs of grindstones, which were incredibly expensive. They
had to be made of just the right kind of stone, which was not usually to be
found in the neighbourhood, and the cost of transporting such weighty and
unwieldy objects was the largest part of the expense of setting up a mill
(the ones in the mill we visited apparently came from France, but this would
be an exceptional case). The lower stone was fixed and the upper one turned by
the machinery (driven by a waterwheel in this case). The stones had to be set
exactly the right distance apart: too big a gap and the corn didn’t grind
properly; too small and the grain overheated and began to burn. Gauging the
gap was a crucial part of the skill of milling, not least because accidentally
allowing the stones to touch would within a very short time wear them out.
But setting the gap correctly was complicated by the need to keep the stones
completely enclosed, so as to minimise flying dust and to keep the flour free
from dirt, which meant their position could not be judged by eye. Our guide
was adamant that the best tool the miller had was his nose: he would immediately
be able to detect the slightest trace of burning and adjust the gap before any
harm was done. But to do this effectively meant the miller had to stay constantly
close to the stones—hence, keep his nose to the grindstone.
- To get ‘soaked’ or overcharged : Millers had a reputation for being dishonest
and were often said to have a "golden thumb", referring to the practice of
pressing their thumb on the scales to increase the weight and therefore the
price charged. It gave rise to the expression to get "soaked" or overcharged.