Author Topic: Taking the grinder  (Read 7193 times)


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Taking the grinder
« on: March 19, 2017, 02:36:34 PM »
Hello friends,

I'm new around here, so consider this my introductory post.
I've been searching, for quite a while now, for an answer to a question which arose from my reading of 'The Pickwick Papers' by Charles Dickens. This would be the time to note that, unfortunately, English is not my native language, nor my native culture, but I am thoroughly infatuated with both, therefore I will not rest until I have found the answer.
Here I shall bring the quote in question:
"Here Mr Jackson smiled once more upon the company, and, applying his left thumb to the tip of his nose, worked a visionary coffee-mill with his right hand: thereby performing a very graceful piece of pantomime (then much in vogue, but now, unhappily, almost obsolete) which was familiarly denominated 'taking a grinder'."

So, to those more profound in the language and the classic English culture, what does "taking a grinder" mean?
The best I could get out of the internet is how to take one's marijuana grinder abroad, but I'm sure that's not what Dickens meant.
Any clue for further research and analysis would be greatly appreciated.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Taking the grinder
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2017, 07:39:02 PM »
My best guess would be that it is a (somewhat) literal description of the gesture described, where 'grinder' is a synonym for coffee-mill. I don't know the context in the story, but it sounds like he is being rudely dismissive of those around him, so he's insulting them with a gesture. So it might be equivalent to 'giving the middle finger' today. It sounds like the visual gesture implies running something (someone?) through a coffee grinder, completely destroying them. Maybe the meaning (just guessing from the context) could be something like "You're all dead to me!"
However, I should add that I'm not familiar with this idiom (it seems it was outdated at the time Dickens was writing, perhaps it is even fictional; plus he's British and I'm American), so I'm not sure how helpful my comments will be. (I didn't see anything obvious in a quick google search either.)

Post back if you figure out the answer!
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Re: Taking the grinder
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2017, 03:08:11 PM »
Thanks! It does make sense that he's being dismissive towards the others, seeing as he is a lawyer's clerk handing out subpoenas to them. They are trying to inquire about the reason for this course of action, and he's not willing to disclose any information. It really is curious, this use of a coffee-grinder pantomime in this context. Whether it's a real gesture or something Dickens made up, he is definitely phenomenal for writing such intricacies.