Grain for the Grinder

I’ve finally hit rock bottom. It’s time to make a change. It won’t be easy, but I can’t avoid it any longer.  I need to update my idioms.

My use of outdated expressions was first pointed out to me at work during a meeting with a supervisor and her staff. The supervisor is a friend of mine and she enjoys pointing out my flaws, especially if there is an audience. I was explaining the purpose of the meeting to her staff. I said I wanted to get their ideas about a particular topic and I told the group that I was looking for “grist for the mill.”  My friend giggled. I looked at her confusedly, as I was sure I had not said anything funny. She turned to her staff, all of whom were younger than 30-years-old, and said, “Do any of you know what ‘grist for the mill’ means?” They all shook their heads, indicating “no.” One of them asked, “What’s ‘grist’?” and another said, “What’s a mill?”

I realized that as confident as I was in the meaning of the phrase, I too didn’t know what ‘grist’ is or what a ‘mill’ looks like. More significant was my realization that this particular idiom had not been handed down to the next generation. It was dead. By using it, I was only creating confusion.

I arrived at rock bottom in a draft of my new book in which I attempted to make a clever simile about the time I got a metal rod inserted in my leg as part of a surgical procedure to repair a fracture. I wrote that I felt “like Promontory Point.” When my writer/editor friend told me he didn’t understand the reference, I was shocked. How could my exceedingly well-read friend not understand that I was comparing myself to the spot where the Golden Spike was driven into the ground in 1869 to join the tracks of the eastern and western railroads? I looked it up online and discovered that I got it wrong. The Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit, not Point. Not only was I using a 145-year-old reference, I was 37 miles away from the geographical location of its source.

That’s when I knew I had a problem. This is a matter of concern for me both as a manager and a writer. I don’t want my staff or audience to be confused by my use of stale or incorrect expressions. I don’t want them to be bored, either. This is not a problem to be handled with kid gloves. I can’t solve it by jumping on a bandwagon or going through a wringer. I need to come up with fresh similes and metaphors to convey meaning. I’ll do my best. Wish me luck.  #rockbottom #gristforthemill.

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3 thoughts on “Grain for the Grinder

  1. Reblogged this on randomandrhyme and commented:
    I like the old, it’s vintage, well read, historical and crap the under 30 group can google it!
    But I look forward to your 2014 of “Grist for the Mill” – Maybe some “Junipers for the still” “Bud for the pipe” – come on – I live in Washington.

  2. Funny that you offer this today, Todd. I was just reading this article the other day: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/03/06/the-idiom-graveyard-from-hotcakes-to-high-horses-13-expressions-we-really-should-retire/. I use many of these all the time and they are from our grandparents’ generation mostly, aren’t they?! I hadn’t even realized people might not have any idea what I am saying. Maybe I just talk to older people who do?!

  3. Thanks for the link, Liz. That article is much funnier than my post. It’s amazing how many of these expressions are still “invisible” to my sensibility. I like to imagine how some of these very American outdated idioms would translate into, for example, Arabic. Good luck explaining to your Abu Dhabi friends why there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

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