Saturday, January 19, 2013

All is Grist for the mill

Grist may seem a strange topic for an old man to talk about.

But the word is onomatopoetic and the old man likes words that get to the point. Moreover, the week before, while shooting pictures of the Little Walnut Pratt Truss bridge in Bois d'Arc, Kansas, he came across the remains of an old gristmill. Finally, the old man likes grits, which is corn grist coarsely ground.

Hey, old men don't always make sense, that is, unless you think about it.

Remains of the Gristmill at Bois d'Arc, Kansas

Grist is corn or wheat grain separated from its chaff and ready for grinding at a grist mill. It also means the grain that has been ground. It is not too hard to guess that grist comes from Old English, grinden, meaning to grind.

Grits, which sounds a lot like grist, is simply corn ground coarsely. It is popular in the South and with the old man. And, in case you were wondering, corn ground finely is corn meal, good for making corn muffins.

Gristmills have been around a long time. Strabo, the Greek geographer who popularized the map, reports of a mill in ancient Pontus, on the Black Sea, where Strabo was born. This was in the year 71 BC, about the time when Spartacus was giving the Romans fits, and Julius Caesar was just starting his military career. Certainly gristmills had been around long before this, and maybe Strabo, who traveled extensively and to Egypt, was only mentioning the mill in Pontus because of the connection to home and the mills' familiarity.

William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066, thought gristmills important enough to be counted in the Domesday Book. That is grist for thought.

And this thought leads the old man on to the proverb, "all is grist for the mill", which symbolically states what the old man blathers about.

The mill is where the grist is ground, and the miller is the grinder of the grist. A miller ground whatever grain was brought to him, charging a portion of the final product for the service. Therefore, all grain coming to the mill represented income.The miller surely held an important place in village life, for every farmer and consumer came to him, either to sell grain or to buy grits and flour.

We also know that the mill was important by the number of phrases concerning mills that have come into common use. Jut to name a few, these are: "holding one's nose to the grindstone", "carrying a millstone around one's neck", "to be put through the mill", and "run of the mill". All these phrases are so descriptive as to not need further explanation. Read on if you like semantics.