No axes to grind

I have often used the phrase ‘I’ve got no axes to grind’ and have always thought it meant I had nothing to prove to myself or to others or in other words I wasn’t trying to prove a point. I searched the meaning of the phrase online and it appears that there are doubts as to the phases author(s) and its origins. The search results are below. I suppose many of us use phases in the normal course of our lives without thinking about their origins. Often we miss-quote them too. I had a colleague who constantly used a particular phrase and always miss-quoted it. He was a stubborn person as I recall and very much set in his ways so I guess he didn’t listen to corrective suggestions. I think some of the phrases we use are quite quaint and often give a better description of our intent. It is often easier to quote a phase than to make the attempt at conveying our thoughts in our own words. So what are your feelings regarding the use of  phases from yesteryear in our everyday language?

Shirley Anne 

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Have an axe to grind’?
an ax to grindAx or axe? The spelling more commonly used in America is ax and, in Britain, axe, although in neither nation is there consistency. The phrase, in its having private ends to serve meaning, is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Other opinions point to another author who, like Franklin, lived in Pennsylvania, USA – Charles Miner. It is difficult to trace the origin, as both men wrote and printed cautionary metaphorical tales concerning the sharpening of axes.

Franklin sent a story called ‘The Whistle’ to a friend in 1779. This concerns a child who paid more than he should have for a whistle and later regretted his lack of caution. Franklin’s autobiography, which was written between 1771 and his death in 1790 and first published in 1791, also contains an anecdote concerning a man who asked a smith to sharpen his ax especially well and ended up doing the work of turning the grindstone himself. Neither story mentions the phrase an ax to grind.

Like many inventions, this one looks likely to have been Franklin’s
right quote Miner appears to have written a text called Who’ll turn Grindstones?, which does explicitly mention an axe to grind, but which is similar enough to Franklin’s earlier stories for some to suggest that Franklin was the real originator of the phrase. I say appears to have written as the first publication of Miner’s story is an anonymous piece in the Pennsylvania newspaper The Centinel, on 28th November 1810, under the title Who’ll turn Grindstone? This is listed as being reprinted from the Luzerne Federalist. Miner was co-founder of the Federalist, so it’s reasonable to assume that he was author. The story is a cautionary fable concerning the author’s recounting of an incident from his youth, where a passing stranger takes advantage of him and, by flattering him, dupes him into turning a grindstone to sharpen the stranger’s axe. Miner then uses having an axe to grind as a metaphor for having an ulterior motive:

“When I see a man holding a fat office, sounding ‘the horn on the borders’ to call the people to support the man on whom he depends for his office. Well, thinks I, no wonder the man is zealous in the cause, he evidently has an axe to grind.”

The story is published again in 1812; this time under Charles Miner’s name and with a slightly different text:

“When I see a merchant over-polite to his customers … thinks I, that man has an axe to grind.”

So, whether or not we view Miner as cribbing his work from Franklin, it seems that it was he who first put the phrase into print.

The meaning that is usually given to the phrase in Britain is having a dispute to take up or point of view to express. Again, it isn’t easy to trace the source of this usage. It may be that it migrated from the USA. The sense of having an agenda is common to both versions of the meaning and it doesn’t seem likely that the two versions of the phrase arose independently.

James Joyce used the phrase in Ulysses, apparently with that ‘British’ meaning although, as ever with that particular work, rather difficult to interpret:

Skin-the-Goat, assuming he was he, evidently with an axe to grind, was airing his grievances in a forcible-feeble philippic anent the natural resources of Ireland or something of that sort…


Shirley Anne


Silly slang and other things

Butter and a butter knife
Butter and a butter knife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No work Monday seems to be the norm for me lately but it doesn’t stay that way too long either. I did get a call from a guy who had been struggling to repair a light and I went to his house to fix it for him. I was back home before you could say ‘Jackanory‘. Now there is a strange saying but of course it is only an allegory. E suggested we remove unwanted materials and tools from the bedroom in readiness for the furniture build. Hopefully the materials for building the furniture will arrive here within a few days. Then she suggested we, that is I, should call and arrange for the scaffolding to be erected in order for the problems we have with the roof to be resolved because the guy doing the repairs was taking far too long to get the work underway. He was supposed to be making all the arrangements but we need the work doing sooner rather than later. A little after lunch the owner of the scaffolding company called at the house to assess our requirements. We used this guy’s company when we had major work going on at the house in 2010 because we, that is I, liked him. His rates are very reasonable and this time he offered me a small discount from his estimated price. The scaffolding needs to be erected in two separate places but when he and I were talking I asked if we could have that scaffolding which was to be erected over the garage where I park my van to be extended across the full depth of the house so that we may have the rear chimney stack checked too. That stack isn’t in use and is unlikely to be in the future so we may decide to cap it off if it isn’t already done. So things are moving along as they should be. He stepped into the house whilst he made the calculations and E popped into the room to say hello. He asked how she was and after her reply I jumped in with ‘She’s having problems with rising damp in her wooden leg’ which brought laughter all round but he replied ‘Creosote is great for preventing rising damp’ which brought even more laughter. We like to laugh and joke around here. He told us that he aims to have the scaffolding erected on Wednesday or Thursday which will be yesterday or today as you read this. The price? £1000, and that is before any work starts! Should have bought a Bungalow! Now that isn’t a joke is it but hey, that’s the way it goes. After he left E sat and had her lunch and I sat with her although I had already eaten. I had wanted to be sure that one of us would be available when our caller arrived for I knew he would be calling around lunchtime.

English: Hot cross buns are a quintessentially...
Hot cross buns are a quintessentially British tradition at Easter.They can be eaten warm or split, toasted with butter for breakfast, tea or a snack. No one knows for certain when the tradition began, but in 16th century England, bakers were limited by law to occasions when these special doughs could be made. Good Friday was one; ‘cross buns’ marked this holy day towards the end of the Lenten fast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we were talking she asked why I had no butter on my hot-cross bun but she had said ‘You’ve put no butter on your bun’. I immediately thought how strange our use of language is and especially slang. The thing is, how could I have put ‘no’ butter on anything? Perhaps if worded this way you will see my point, ‘You’ve not put butter on your bun’. We use slang every day and we all know what is meant by what is spoken, that is as long as we are familiar with local colloquialisms. Anyway I enjoyed the dry, that is un-buttered bun I’d eaten supplementary to my lunch.

Shirley Anne

Plans awry

Book of Hours, Latin with additions in Middle ...
Book of Hours, Latin with additions in Middle English; Middle English charm against the plague. Southern Netherlands (probably Bruges), ca. 1440, f.102v (Photo credit: Dunedin Public Libraries Medieval Manuscripts)

I love Old English words and phrases. Many are still in use but with the advance of modern terms and phrases most of the old words have all but disappeared. English as spoken by our American cousins had drifted somewhat from the version they took with them in the days of colonization. Words suddenly lost the letter ‘u’ as in colour, humour and in doing so lost their correct pronunciation. The ‘u’ was there for a reason! Many English words derive from the French language and the ‘u’ came with them. There is a subtle difference in the pronunciation of the word when it contains and retains the ‘u’ which is lost in the American spelling. The word ‘awry’ above      (1325–75; Middle English on wry) 


1.produced by a distortion or lopsidedness of the facial features: a wry grin.

2.abnormally bent or turned to one side; twisted; crooked: a wry mouth.

3.devious in course or purpose; misdirected.

4.contrary; perverse.

5.distorted or perverted, as in meaning.

… one which originates from what we call ‘Middle English‘ but is still used today…….sometimes. The odd thing is that according to some dictionaries the origin of the word ‘wry’ is –  1515–25;  adj. use of wry  to twist, Middle English wryen, Old English wrīgian  to go, strive, tend, swerve; cognate with Dutch wrijgen  to twist; akin to Old English wrigels, Latin rīcula  veil, Greek rhoikós  crooked. As you can see ‘Awry’ (or ‘on wry’) is supposed to have originated earlier. I have digressed somewhat from my original intentions for the subject of this post which has nothing to do with what is written above except that I am using a word that is almost out of circulation and some may wonder to what I am referring.

The essence of my post today now seems less interesting than a lesson in English words and phrases but nevertheless…. I had spent the morning in two locations miles apart doing two small jobs the first of which turned out to be really awkward, one of those jobs that should have been straightforward but wasn’t. The second was the opposite being easier than I had anticipated but that is the nature of my work. I take it in my stride. So I was home before lunch and was able to fix myself a snack and rest a while before doing a little work at home. Well that is what I had planned! No sooner had I finished eating when the house phone rang but I ignored it. We often get promotional phone calls from companies who, despite it being illegal in certain circumstances to make cold calls, insist on doing it anyway. My phone company is supposed to be blocking these calls but somehow one or two slip through the net. If the caller is someone seeking my services they will usually then call me on my mobile phone, though why they don’t do that in the first place is beyond me as it is more likely that I would be out at work during the day working! Anyway the mobile phone duly rang and it happened to be my neighbour, the lady whose husband died just before Christmas. She asked if I was at home or out at work and when I told her I was at home she asked if I could fix a small problem she was having with her kitchen taps (faucets). From what she was saying the taps were leaking heavily. I popped next door and assessed the problem. The seal had broken in the base of the mixer tap assembly, a simple replacement of a couple of rubber ‘O’ rings would solve it. The ten minute job took an hour and a half! The tiny screw, and I mean tiny, which held the body of the tap in the base was located behind as is normal for these taps but unfortunately access to it was extremely difficult as it was only a few centimetres from a wall. It took twenty minutes to remove that screw, two minutes to change the O rings and the rest of the time to replace the screw which defied all attempts at relocation! Eventually I had to replace the screw with a longer one not designed for the purpose as it became impossible to fit the original. The tap assembly was obviously fitted to the sink before the sink was fitted without regard for any future maintenance. That sounds about right doesn’t it? My neighbour was well pleased that I had succeeded despite all the odds and wanted to show her appreciation by paying me. Naturally I declined her offer. My plans for the afternoon though had gone awry! LOL….

Shirley Anne 

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A certain type of person?

AOL Unbound
AOL Unbound (Photo credit: sdk)

Each day I check my email in boxes. Over the years I have accumulated four of them. In the early days I used each email address for different purposes but gradually those uses became obsolete. Email providers usually maintain your email address for life and I suppose it would be difficult to ‘unsubscribe’ as they say. Perhaps not using an address for years might close the account but I have never tried doing that. I have four accounts, AOL being the main one that I use. This blog is linked with my Gmail address for those wishing to contact me so is likely to be used occasionally. The other two addresses only rarely have genuine messages on them but I still look in every day. My main address with AOL I check two or even three times each day because of the volume of mails I receive through it. When I have finished reading/sending mail I spend a little time browsing the AOL news pages and very often discover many interesting things to read there. Many of the postings invite comments from readers and I have been known to post the occasional comment myself though very infrequently. Sometimes I simply read what others have to say which brings me to the whole point of this post! I am beginning to think that only a certain type of person regularly post comments on these news items. The responses are not well written, sometimes abusive and with appalling spelling mistakes and standards of grammar. It’s as though some of them never had any schooling at all else they took no notice of their teachers. One would think an effort would be made to write half-decent comments with the words being spelled correctly at least. Now I know there are people who have difficulty with the English language or any language for that matter for they may be dyslexic but I don’t believe every writer suffers being so, more likely they are just too lazy to even try. So it seems to me at least that only certain types of people regularly comment on these sites as a means of social contact and that most of them can’t read or write properly!

Shirley Anne

My word!

Spelling at its worst 047224
Image via Wikipedia

Iz this the way Inglish shud be ritten? I hav seen menny instansez ov poorly ritten artikuls simply becoz peepul carnt spell properly. It is also becos they left skool withowt a gud edewcayshun. Wot wer they duing at skool, thats if they wer at skool?
Joking apart, I have found many instances of bad spelling and grammar even for the simplest of compositions. There is of course an excuse for those who may be dyslexic but for the rest of us there isn’t really an excuse unless we are completely stupid. Some will always find language, especially spelling, difficult but most children leaving school should be educated to an acceptable level. In this day and age and with the help of computer programs (I remember when that word was spelled programmes) that check for correct spelling and even punctuation, there should be no need to present compositions that lack these two basic requirements yet I still see presumably well-educated adults using ‘i’ instead of ‘I’ when used as a single word. One person I see does this regularly either because it is thought to be correct or they do it out of defiance. Simply childish. Many words in the English language are mis-used, their instead of there or vice-versa, were replacing where to name but two. I love the English language and although I strive to use it correctly in speech and the written word, I still get things wrong on occasion. Hopefully those instances are becoming less frequent with the passage of time. Correct me if I am wrong and I am sure that you will but if a language is to be used then let’s try to do that properly. Another area  of contention is ‘text speak‘ being used in normal communication. It is alright to use abbreviations when communicating over the mobile phone but not everywhere else! Practice makes perfect though and the more we use our language the more we should improve. So let’s get writing!

Shirley Anne

Queen’s English

I don’t know about you but I think many of todays adult population have an appalling command of the English language. Of course there are some who sadly cannot help their writing skills not being up to scratch because of dyslexia but there isn’t really an excuse for the rest of us, especially with proof-readers and spell-checking programs. I was reading a comment that somebody had written in response to a particular article of news on the Internet.  Instead of using the word ‘have’ they substituted it with ‘of’. This is symptomatic of the way people actually speak these days, they slur their words so that they sound like other words which, when written down, become the other word! For example they might say. ‘The policeman should have noticed the banana on the floor’ but write it thus:- ‘The policeman should of noticed the banana on the floor’. The word ‘have’ being so spoken as to sound like ‘of’ so when written it becomes that word!

Why do people get the words two, to and too confused? Most often the word ‘to’ is substituted for the word ‘too’ as in ‘He said it was to much for him to do’, when it should be, ‘He said it was too much for him to do’. Simple mistake if it is a mistake, which it probably isn’t most of the time. It is easy enough to remember which word to use in this case. Most applications require the use of the word ‘to’ but if an excess is implied then the word ‘too’ is correct because it has the extra ‘o’. There should be no excuse for mis-using the other word ‘two’.

Don’t people know that the letter ‘i’ is never used by itself? It should always be written as ‘I’. Or that the first letter of a name (proper nouns) should always be a capital letter as in John, London, Asia etc? Yet I see people writing all their words in lower-case with a complete disregard for the beginnings of sentences, proper nouns or quotations.

Then there are words such as ‘there’ and ‘their’, ‘where’ and ‘were’ which get people confused but they are not that difficult to understand. Remember ‘your’ is not the same as ‘you’re’, ‘our’ not the same as ‘are’.

There are many things in the writing of the English language that people get wrong. We all make mistakes but where there are writing aids I think they should be used and by doing so perhaps we can learn and improve as we go along. Be proud of your language and make every effort to improve your use of it.

I am of the opinion that many people just do not care about their language or their illiteracy, those that can do something about it that is. Standards are diminishing and it isn’t only in language, it is across the broad spectrum of life in many cases, in work, driving and in other things. 

Shirley Anne

Silly Sayings

Another busy day at the office leaves me too tired to do much in the way of a post today so I’ll leave you with this one:-

I was thinking about some of the silly things people say and was reminded of these:-

‘I’m going to the doctor with my leg’……. Bit difficult to go without it I would imagine.

‘Isn’t the sun hot today’? …………Well yes, of course it is.

‘I am going to boil the kettle’…………what about the water inside it?

‘I’m boiling an egg’……Is that with or without the water?

‘Go to work on an egg’……….yeah, sure!

‘There will be a stiff breeze blowing today’…….Have you ever seen air that is stiff?

‘The hot water’s cold!…………… Enough said.

‘I’m over the Moon’………… Really?

‘Pigs might fly’…………. Pigeons are bad enough thanks.

‘Throw some light on the subject’……. That could be difficult.

‘I got plastered last night’……….Is that why you are so stiff now?

‘My feet are worn out’……….Off to get a new pair then?

‘The pain is killing me’!………..Take a pain killer then, or die.

There must be plenty more of these around………….

Shirley Anne xxx

What’s this?

After the aforementioned veritable obnoxious undulating excursions into an indescribably infectious and dangerously debilitating romantically inclined superfluously endowed extraordinary extravaganza, which, notwithstanding caused overwhelming nausea, violent, virulent madness culminating, as it did in every conceivable corporate way to teach us about our often frail, diminutive, indistinct inadequacies forthcoming but typical, results from such escapades never before taken eagerly with innocent meanderings for people not aquainted nor experienced intellectually, manually without forethought or otherwise seemingly mindless animated difficulties expected, therefore resulting predictably, I might say, towards obvious outcomes very painfully slow then inevitably spiralling downwards until stopped by agonisingly excruciating manipulations of involuntary bodily functions overcoming inmost thoughts relieving burdensome dire feelings, most unusual related circumstances covering a host, at this time, meaningless expressions thoughtlessly described herein giving each external encounter overall needless agonising reports too verbally horrifying ear-wise, we left forthwith reluctantly expressing quite rightly all hitherto misgivings manifested.

Shirley Anne

I hate it when…..

I hate it when people write ‘u’ instead of ‘you’. I hate it when ‘I’ is replaced with an ‘i’ when it should be an ‘I’. I hate it when a heart replaces ‘love’ or an ‘8’ replaces ‘ate’. I simply hate text language especially when it is in a letter or an Email. I have touched on this subject before some months ago. Why are people so lazy? Do I write like that? You will not find it written by my hand anywhere. In some of the replies to my posts I have made amendments to the grammar before I approve them but usually this is only spelling mistakes or slips at the keyboard. For instance someone will write ‘bookmrak’ instead of ‘bookmark’ so I correct it and I do the same if it is written in text language. Well it is my blog and I want to keep it tidy! I guess that makes me an editor! Don’t worry though, I make these amendments and keep them to myself so keep writing.

Shirley Anne x

Moving along nicely

Since I started this blog early in the year I have seen much improvement in my writing and subject material. It is difficult to maintain a variety in subject matter even though I suppose I could write about almost anything. I feel however that I should have at least an interest in the posts I write rather than reaching out and selecting something more abstract. That’s not to say I won’t ever do that simply to inject some variety. My English has improved somewhat too. I have always had a keen interest in writing good English and this stems from my early experiences in writing formal letters to organisations. I would write something then analyse it’s grammatical correctness and rewrite it. Spelling was something I had excelled at but occasionally I would become unstuck, after all I cannot be expected to know every spelling. That’s what dictionaries are for. I find that the more I write the better I become. Naturally so. I am not dyslexic as some unfortunately are so I have no real excuse for not getting things right. I despair when I receive emails and see the appalling spelling errors they contain. It might be that the writer has difficulty but I suspect most are just lazy. It is even worse when they write in ‘text speak’ as people do on their mobile phones. I resist all temptations to do the same. I encourage the writing of proper English whenever I can and I expect the same from others.
The Blog itself is moving along nicely and I am getting many visitors to my site. It’s a shame most of them do not comment but I am happy that some do when they have the time. Thank you for that. Now I will have to think about my next subject………….

Shirley Anne