Is Run of the Mill Really About Being Just Plain Average?

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Run of the mill means the usual, not out of the ordinary, and unspectacular. It explains that something is expected and nothing special. For instance, when I was shopping for a car, I sought something simple and run of the mill to keep the cost low. All that mattered to me was its ability to safely transport me from point A to point B.

This phrase is an example of an idiom—an expression whose meaning differs from the literal interpretation of its individual words. Idioms are culturally specific and often have figurative meanings that convey a concept or idea in a more colorful or symbolic way.

This article delves into the meaning, origin, contextual usage, and examples of the idiom run of the mill. It also provides related phrases and helpful tips for using it effectively. Continue reading to gain a deeper understanding of this phrase, and take a quiz at the end to test your newly found knowledge. 

Is Run of the Mill Really About Being Just Plain Average

What Does the Idiom Run of the Mill Mean?

The idiom run of the mill means something ordinary, common, or average, without any special or outstanding qualities. It refers to things that are standard or typical, lacking uniqueness or exceptional characteristics.

Merriam-Webster states that it is used to describe something as “not outstanding in quality or rarity.” Collins Dictionary says, “A run-of-the-mill person or thing is very ordinary, with no special or interesting features.”

Is Run of the Mill Hyphenated?

The expression run of the mill is an adjective and is typically placed before the noun it describes. In this case, you should hyphenate run-of-the-mill to indicate that all the words work together as part of the modification. 

Run of the mill can also be used in a comparative or superlative form, as well as a subject complement, and in these cases, you would not hyphenate it. 

However, the hyphenated use of the phrase has been dropping off in recent years, and you will commonly see it used with and without hyphens. Feel free to choose how you prefer to use it, but remember that you need to be consistent in its use. 


  • The restaurant served a run-of-the-mill meal. (adjective before a noun)
  • Her performance was nothing more than run of the mill. (subject complement)
  • Among all the options, that one is the most run of the mill. (superlative form)
  • This product is more run of the mill than the ones on the market. (comparative form)

How Is Run of the Mill Commonly Used in Context?

The idiom run of the mill finds frequent usage in everyday language to describe something ordinary or commonplace.

The following sections explore the various ways this expression is commonly employed, provide examples that illustrate its application, and outline practical tips on how to effectively integrate the idiom into communication.

What Are the Different Ways to Use Run of the Mill?

Remember to consider the context and meaning you want to convey when choosing the appropriate way to use run of the mill in your sentences.

  • Describing something ordinary: “The movie was just run of the mill, lacking any unique plot twists or standout performances.”
  • Referring to a commonplace event: “The meeting was run of the mill, covering routine topics with no surprising developments.”
  • Characterizing a standard product: “It’s just a run-of-the-mill smartphone, offering basic features without any exceptional innovations.”
  • Expressing mediocrity in performance: “The team’s performance was run of the mill, neither outstanding nor particularly disappointing.”

Where Can You Find Examples of Run of the Mill?

Examples of the phrase can be found in various sources, including:

  • Literature 
  • News and magazine articles 
  • Online forums and discussions 
  • Movie and TV show reviews
  • Conversations and everyday speech

The following examples are from online news sources, providing the context of the idiom within business and technological contexts:

“Learning how Israel does that, as well as how it defends individuals, companies, and governments from more run of the mill cyber-threats like hackers who steal credit card information or breach databases, brought over 3,000 people to Cybertech 2016…” (The Times of Israel)

“Your run of the mill in-house agencies can’t attract and retain the same caliber of creative talent that Apple does.” (Forbes Magazine)

What Are Some Tips for Using Run of the Mill Effectively?

Keep these helpful tips in mind to use this idiom effectively:

  • Contextual understanding: Before using the phrase, make sure you have a clear understanding of its meaning. Be mindful of the context in which you use it to ensure it conveys the intended message.
  • Appropriate situations: Use the phrase when describing something typical, standard, or unremarkable. 
  • Varied sentence structures: Experiment with different sentence structures to add variety to your writing or conversation. 
  • Clarify with examples: To ensure your audience understands your meaning, consider providing examples or additional details to illustrate what you mean.

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Run of the Mill?

Run of the Mill Ngram
Run of the mill usage trend.

The phrase run of the mill originated in the late 19th century and was initially used as a noun phrase to denote goods that had not yet been graded for quality. These unsorted items were part of a generic production, available for purchase as they were.

Run refers to a batch of goods produced in a single manufacturing cycle. It could apply to various industries, resulting in different types of runs: a run of the mill refers to fabric from a textile mill or lumber from a sawmill, a run of the kiln describes ceramics or bricks after processing, and a run of the mine denotes raw materials brought up during mining operations, among others.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Over time, run of the mill evolved from its literal industrial use to a metaphorical idiom. It started being used to declare something as ordinary or average, extending beyond the domain of manufactured goods. Today, it refers to anything common, unexceptional, or typical.

What Are Some Related Terms to Run of the Mill?

If you want to further explore what run of the mill means, take a look at related terms to help provide proper context and sentence placement. 

Is Run of the Mill Really About Being Just Plain Average 1


  • Average
  • Commonplace
  • Standard
  • Typical
  • Regular


  • Extraordinary
  • Exceptional
  • Outstanding
  • Remarkable
  • Uncommon

Run of the Mill: Test Your Knowledge!

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Let’s Review

The idiom run of the mill comes from a time when machinery began to be used in factories and mills. Items that were once custom-made by hand began to be cranked out for consumption by the masses. The idiom was first used literally in the second half of the 1800s, and by the mid-1900s, it was being used figuratively. 

Its literal and figurative definitions are similar in that they both describe a basic product that has not been quality-checked and is considered average. Run of the mill, along with terms such as run of the mine or run of the kiln, refers to specific products. Today, when we use the expression run of the mill, we refer to anything mediocre and unsurprising in appearance and/or quality