Home » Languages » English (Sr. Secondary) » Meaning of “An Axe To Grind” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Meaning of “An Axe To Grind” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

An Axe To Grind

“When I see a merchant over-polite to his customers, think I, that man has an axe to grind.”—CILAS MINER. : Who’ll Turn Grindstones? (1815).

This phrase connotes selfish and personally interested motives in ostensibly public service—a suggestion of pulling strings behind the scenes for private ends. “Jobbery” and “log-rolling” are terms which are closely associated with political axe-grinding.

Our phrase is founded on a story told by Benjamin Franklin of a fellow-countryman who, wishing to grind his axe at his farmstead, resorted to a piece of trickery in order to enlist the services of a passing boy to turn his grindstone. Pre-tending ignorance of the method of operating the machine, he asked the boy to be kind enough to show him. He continued to praise the boy’s efforts until his axe was well ground, and then burst out laughing at the boy’s stupidity and credulity. That boy was Benjamin Franklin himself.

Sir Robert Walpole, a reputed authority on “axe-grinding,” speaking in the House of Commons on a motion for his removal from office as Prime Minister, in 1741, said : “This pretended virtue (of patriotism) proceeds from personal malice and disappointed ambition. There is not s man among them whose particular aim I am not able to ascertain, and from what motive they have entered into the lists of opposition.”

“Patriotism,” wrote Dr. Johnson, the eminent lexicographer, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” The great 18th-century sage’ had a terse, and often brusque, way of expressing himself on most subjects; and though he did not intend, by this sweeping epigram, to define a patriot as a scoundrel, he did intend to call a spade a spade by saying that many men were so unscrupulous that they would seek to cover their misdeeds under the cloak of patriotism ; and certainly there is no more withering condemnation of any public servant than to accuse him of “grinding his own axe.”


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