April 4, 2013

I Have An Axe To Grind

Giacomo & Slick

Giacomo & Slick

A huge THANKS! is in order for all you wonderful readers. You have made March my best sales month ever. And even more gratitude to the magnificent readers who spent precious time leaving reviews. My books have some of the highest ratings based on customer reviews. The “hard boiled mystery” category has @ 5,000 books listed. Here are the rankings:

Murder Takes Time is ranked #1.

Bullet for Carlos is ranked #6.

And Murder Has Consequences is already at #13.

Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Now, with that said…

I Have An Axe To Grind

You might think from the title of this post that I’m pissed off at someone, or something. That I have a belly full of words that are dying to burst out and verbally assault someone. I’m sorry to disappoint you, all I have is an ulterior motive for writing this post.

Let Me Back Up

I was reading a book a few weeks ago, and one of the characters had “an axe to grind.” The author used it in a manner that indicated the character was looking to “get even” for a wrong that was done to him. About a week after that, I was watching an old Law and Order episode and the Assistant DA used that saying in exactly the same manner. And within another few days I heard it again on TV.

I don’t get bothered by people using words or sayings in the wrong fashion, but I draw the line when it comes to writers, and that includes TV or the movies, since all of it starts with a screenwriter. Words are a writer’s business; we should know about words. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not spouting this off like some arrogant ass sitting atop the mountain. I make plenty of mistakes, and there is nothing I treasure more than a reader sending an email to tell me about them. I had one reader from New York inform me that my subway stop that my character went “down” the steps to access, was actually an above ground station. Yes, it was embarrassing, but I quickly fixed it and uploaded a new file. And I thanked that person profusely.



So Back to That Axe

When someone has “an axe to grind,” they have an ulterior motive or selfish motivation; they are not seeking vengeance, nor do they have a grievance. I won’t go into the boring details, but the saying apparently originated back in the time of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin tells of a man who wanted to grind his axe, but had no one to turn the grindstone. He went to where young Ben Franklin was working, and he asked the boy to show him how the machine worked. All the while he praised Ben, until his axe was ground, and then he laughed at Ben for his pains.

You can go to a few dictionaries and find an alternative definition meaning a grievance, or revenge, but if you dig deep you’ll always come back to the story originating with the Franklin story.

It’s funny how meanings of words, and especially sayings, change over time. There is another saying that is so ingrained in society that almost everyone uses it, including most writers…

Sweat Like a Pig

I always assumed this meant sweating profusely, but I was never curious enough to uncover the origin of the phrase until we started our animal sanctuary and got some pigs. Imagine my confusion when I realized pigs don’t sweat. So I began a search to get to the bottom of the phrase, “sweat like a pig.”

According to Wikipedia, the term is allegedly derived from the iron smelting process. After pouring the iron into runners in sand, it is allowed to cool and is seen as resembling a sow and piglets, hence the term “pig iron.” As the pigs cool, the surrounding air reaches its dew point and beads of moisture form on the surface of the pigs. “Sweating like a pig” indicates that the pig has cooled enough to be moved in safety.

So Why Did I Write This Post?

Call me a defender of the English language. Call me an ass. But if one other person reads this and stops using the phrases the wrong way, perhaps it helps. I realize that change is inevitable and that our language will evolve, and that in a century or two people will be looking back at things written today just as we look back on the “old English” of Shakespeare. They’ll probably wonder how we understood each other with such weird language. Yes, I know this will happen. But for now, I’d like it to remain the same. I’d like words such as “anxious” to not be used instead of “eager.” And if I say I have an axe to grind, I don’t want someone thinking I’m coming after them to settle a score.

The Bottom Line

The next time you’re writing a story, or a blog post, or an email, or just talking to someone, think about the sayings and words you use. And if you’re not sure about the meaning, look them up. It doesn’t take long.


Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,




Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of MURDER TAKES TIME, MURDER HAS CONSEQUENCES, and A BULLET FOR CARLOS. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

What about you? Any words or sayings that you hear used wrong?

photo credit: TheDigitel Myrtle Beach via photopin cc

2 Responses to “I Have An Axe To Grind”

  1. Congratulations!!! Very impressive. However, after reading these books, I’m not surprised. You definitely have a gift and a talent for writing and I want to thank you for sharing it with readers!!
    This post was quite interesting. And I will admit, I am guilty of using those phrases. I don’t think I will be able to utter those words again because this post will come to mind. Thank you for the education.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. And those wonderful tours you run helped those rankings.

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