Axe Grinding – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you seen the phrase 'axe grinding' or 'an axe to grind' somewhere in a text or on the internet and want to know more about the potential meaning of the phrase? The phrase 'axe grinding' is common in the English language, and it's a common figurative saying. This post will tell you its meaning, origin, and the correct use.


'Axe grinding' is a common type of figurative phrase in the English language, though it can make sense when translated to some other languages.

When someone has an 'axe to grind' with another person, it implies almost the same as having 'a bone to pick' with someone.

The phrases 'axe grinding' and 'an axe to grind' could both be used to indicate that one person has a dispute with another, that is implied to be active, ongoing, or planned in the future.

Unless the speaker gives further context, the saying 'axe to grind' or 'axe grinding' would mean nothing other than to indicate the fact that there is a dispute between two people.

When someone 'has no axe to grind' or 'does not have an axe to grind' then the phrase implies that they do not have conflict when someone else might have implied that they do.

Sometimes the phrase can have literal rather than figurative meaning, but only in the context of grinding an axe – either in the context of axemaking or within a role playing game where it might make up part of a player's actions or story.

Example Usage

“if he's going to have an axe to grind with someone, it should be his parents who brought him up in that weird town and not everyone else in the world.”

“He sure has an axe to grind after someone dared to put a pineapple on his pizza, be careful what you say to him next or he might just bite your head off.”

“Meet me at the back of the Blockbuster at five. I have an axe to grind with you about what you did to my sister in the back of your car last night.”

“He has an axe to grind with everyone, that's the biggest reason he can't seem to find work at half the strip clubs in town.”


According to online language resources, the phrase 'an axe to grind' is likely to have been around since at least the 1700s – and the expression might have been made popular by Benjamin Franklin in his speeches and/or letters.

Before this use, the phrase 'axe grinding' is likely to have been literal and it might have only been encountered in the context of physical axe creation or sharpening.

After the quote was attributed to Franklin (or at least, used by him in his work), the phrase started to make its way around as an expression.

By the 1900s, the phrase was already in use and recorded in English dictionaries.

By the 2000s the phrase was in very common use, and a common pop culture reference.

Urban Dictionary firsts lists the phrase from 2007, even though earlier use of the saying 'zxe grinding' and 'to grind an axe' is apparent.

Phrases Similar to Axe Grinding

  • A bone to pick

Phrases Opposite to Axe Grinding

  • Give peace a chance

What is the Correct Saying?

  • N/a

Ways People May Say Axe Grinding Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can use the phrase 'axe grinding' in the wrong way, or misunderstand the use of the phrase when it is said or written.

'Axe grinding' is the less common use of the phrase, and 'an axe to grind' is the more common way in which someone could say it. The term implies conflict in the same way someone might say 'a bone to pick'.

'Axe' is common in the UK and Australia, though the phrase is spelled as 'ax' elsewhere.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Axe Grinding

The acceptable way to use the phrases 'axe grinding', 'axe-grinding', or 'to grind an axe' is to use it to imply that one person has conflict with another.

The phrase is used to imply that the conflict is active, and that two people have a disagreement. More context for the situation is usually given, or the speaker prompts the other person to ask.

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