Phrases that come from old mills


Sophie Nieport

Darke County Parks

Have you ever been told to wait your turn? In the 1800’s farmers harvested their wheat and corn, and pulled wagons of their crop to the local grist mill. When they arrived, they often had to line up along the road to wait their turn to have their grain ground by the turning stones. As children, humans are naturally impatient. As we mature and get older, we are supposed to have more patience. Do you feel that is the case? I struggle with impatience quite often, and I did not grow up with a cell phone in my hand. I feel that generations below me will struggle with patience as adults even more so. With the world at our fingertips now, we don’t want to be told to wait our turn – but if we do, no worries, we will just look down at our phones and ignore the world around us.

It is also believed that the phrase first come, first serve originates from old mills. A very similar phrase recorded is whoso first cometh to the mill, first grist. Grist is another word for grain that is ground into flour. Another phrase that resembles both of these, is the early bird gets the worm. All three have a similar meaning that if you show up first you will get first service which oftentimes indicates picking the best product, or getting the best service. Sometimes it is often interpreted that there won’t be enough for everyone, so you better get there early. I do not feel that was the case for old mills, because if you bring your own grain, there will be enough for you to take home, you just may have to wait your turn!

If you have something that will be a useful ingredient, or can be turned into a product that will help make a profit, you can say that it is grist for the mill. For example, if you have many almost empty bags of baking ingredients, even though they take up space in your cupboard, they are considered grist for the mill because eventually you will use a little at a time to bake homemade goodies. Or in a less figurative sense: if you struggled growing up in an unstable home, but used those experiences to become a strong adult who now gives back to others, when discussing your childhood you can say “all is grist for the mill.”

While grinding grain on the large stones that are turning with fierce water power, it is important for a miller to keep their nose to the grindstone. If a miller smells burning, then the grain is not being fed into the stones causing the stones to touch each other and spark creating a burning smell. In other ways of saying it, you’d better pay attention and work diligently.

Imagine a hard piece of dry corn. Then imagine thousands of hard pieces of corn being crushed within seconds into a fine powder that makes delicious cornbread. During hard times in our lives, we struggle to get through our days. Oftentimes, at the end of a long hard day, we feel as if we have been through the mill – we feel as if we have suffered quite the ordeal, like the corn being crushed by the heavy weight of large stones.

If you are going through one of those hard times right now, and feel as if you have been through the mill, my advice for you is to keep your nose to the grindstone, be patient and wait your turn, because one day you will be able to look back on this time and say that all is grist for the mill.

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