Volunteer Spotlight: Milling Expressions

March 13th 2020 by Susan Ing

Mills have played a huge role in our lives for hundreds of years, from the primitive mill stone to more recent hydroelectric turbines. It is interesting to see how much of an impact mills have had in all areas of our lives, not least their impact on language across the world. Whilst reading through many journal articles I have found many commonly used idioms and expressions relating to mills and milling life, many contemporary users of which likely don't know about their milling origins! Below I've listed some of my particular favourites - I hope you enjoy them. How many of these do you know? Do you know any that aren’t on this list? Let us know!
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Être au four et au moulin = (French) To be in the oven and in the mill. (i.e. being in two places at the same time.

To blow enough turn to turn a mill = to be severely out of breath

To fling one’s cap over the windmill = to fly in the face of convention, to act recklessly/ defiantly

A new mill grinds corn well = something/ someone new will do a good job at first but it may not last

All’s grist that comes to my mill = everything that comes my way will be useful/ can be put to use (“It’s all grist to the mills” is a variation

He who avoids the mill gets no flou r= Effort is required to achieve an end (from the Latin proverb “Qui fugit molam farina non invenit”

He who comes first to the mill grinds first = First come first served

I am loath to change my mill = I’ll stay with what I know

To be born in a mill = To be born deaf.

Mills and wives are never wanting

No mill no meal = you have to put something in to get anything out

Run of the mill = ordinary, not specially selected

The mill cannot grind with water that is past = one cannot look back to missed opportunities (similar to “it’s no good crying over spilt milk”

The same water that drives the mill decayeth it = nothing is ever free

To bring grist to a mill = to bring profit/ valuable supplies

To bring more sacks to the mill = to bring more ammunition to your side of the argument

To go through the mill = to grow through hardship/ difficulties/ hard training and experience

To grind to a halt = to come, gradually, to a standstill

To keep old mannie’s mill going = to continue without a break

To let the multure be taken by one’s own mill = to allow yourself to be deprived of your own rights

To mill about = to circle aimlessly around

We cannot go to one mill let him try another = let someone who has failed on one course of action try something else

Every honest miller has a thumb of gold = there are honest millers

Every miller draws water to his own mills = everyone looks after themselves first

Like a miller’s mare = sober and unassuming

Much water runs by the mill that the miller knows not of [More water glideth by the mill than wots the miller of – Shakespeare] = there are many things going on behind your back

To be behind hand like the miller’s filler = to be poor at keeping appointments

To drown the miller = to overdo water in spirits or other beverages

To give someone to the miller = to engage someone in conversation long enough for a crowd to gather and attack the victim, often with stones!

To put the miller’s eye out = to make a broth so thin or pudding so insubstantial that even a miller would find it difficult to see the flour

Too much water drowned the miller = one can have too much of a good thing

A millstone does not become moss grown = that which is kept rolling will not be burdened with unwanted loads

A rolling stone gathers no moss = someone who is always on the move will not be able to gather possessions or wealth

Hard as the nether millstone = unfeeling or callous

To rain millstones = to rain very hard (rain seems to be a popular theme in expressions and idioms)

To carry a millstone round one’s neck = to be burdened with an unwanted companion or obligation

To weep millstones = to not weep at all

His mill will go with all winds = he can cope with all situations that may arise

To have whittled a mill post to a pudding prick = to have allowed short term gain override long-term prosperity

To have windmills in your head = to be overtaken by fantasy

To tilt at windmills = to take on imaginary enemies (from Don Quixote who attacked windmills perceiving them to be giants)

You cannot make a windmill go with a pair of bellows = it’s pointless to attempt something without the required ability.