Have an ax to grind

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To have an ax to grind is one of those rare idioms with a known origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meaning of the expression have an ax to grind, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To have an ax to grind means to have an ulterior motive, to have a private reason for doing something or saying something. Someone who has an ax to grind has a hidden agenda. The term have an ax to grind was coined by Charles Miner in his essay Who’ll turn Grindstone? which was published at the turn of the nineteenth century. In the essay, Miner relays a story in which a stranger tricked him into turning a grindstone so that the stranger could sharpen his ax. Related expressions are has an ax to grind, had an ax to grind, having an ax to grind. Naturally, the word ax is most often spelled as ax in the United States, and axe in British spelling.


Last week, as the United States Naval Academy held a swearing-in ceremony for the 1,200-plus plebes comprising the Class of 2022, a man with an ax to grind made good on his years of threats. (The Monterey County Weekly)

Moreover, to Beauprez, it doesn’t seem right that a person with a political ax to grind can sharpen the blade by hauling someone before a judge. (The Colorado Springs Gazette)

I have no axe to grind here, because I don’t cover the en primeurs on the basis that most of you treat wine as a drink, not as an investment, but it seemed to me that the brouhaha missed the point that scoring is a really unsatisfactory way to assess any wine. (The Guardian)