Grind House

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 30 20:16:17 UTC 2007

The late, lamented John Lee Hooker's "Grinder Man," is clearly about
sex - cf. also the traditional BE brag, "They call me 'Coffee' 'cause
I grin' so fine!"  And Muddy Waters once asked in song, "What's the
matter with the mill? The mill won't grind," i.e. "I'm suffering an
attack of 'dead bone'," to borrow the felicitous term of the National
Lampoon. So, I conclude that BE "grind house" and WE "grind house"
have different origins having nothing to do with each other. I now bow
out of this discussion.


On 3/30/07, Mullins, Bill AMRDEC <Bill.Mullins at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Mullins, Bill AMRDEC" <Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL>
> Subject:      Re: Grind House
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> Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
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> > ...
> > I don't think it has any connection to "grinder" (barker), as
> > OED hints. =20 It's probably literally a grind house--a film
> > mill. Earlier citations welcom= e. =20 Is VARIETY searchable?
> There are some searchable Variety clippings in the subscription archive
> of the Conjuring Arts Research Center.
> _Variety_ 12/6/1923 p. 19 col 4
> I find "grinder" as Variety's synonym for "grind house" in a headline on
> 11/13/1935.
> OED etymology for "grind house" cites Lightner's HDAS as going back to
> 1926 for "grinder" (I don't have the HDAS at hand).
> From a classified ad:
> _Billboard_ 10/5/1918, p. 41 col 1:
> posing, tickets, lay down act; will need tickets to join.  FRANCIS
> GEORGE, General Delivery, Erie, Pennsylvania."
> Various relevant "grind" citations:
> From a display ad:
> _Billboard_, 11/30/1918, p. 63 col 2
> "We can place, to join at once, Complete Cabaret, also Plantation Show.
> Plantation People of ability, write or wire quick.  We can place several
> more Money-Getting Shows, Grind or Bally."
> [ad from Thayer Mfg. Co, for a "Buddha Fortune Telling Mystery" -- an
> animatronic fortune teller]
> "Carnival Men Take Notice" _Thayer's Magical Bulletin_, 10/1920, vol 8
> no 10 p. 156 col 2.
> "One of those steady grind attractinos which keep the dimes and quarters
> streaming in."
> "Salary Deadlock Continues", _Variety_, 4/29/1921, p. 43 col 2.
> "Of course the short subject studios are running along and grinding, but
> not entirely with their usual speed.  At the Christy studio the comedy
> grind goes along full force."
> [This quote seems to back up Barry Popik's conclusion relating a grind
> house to a film mill -- the studio grinds them out, the grind house
> shows them.]
> "Cameramen Opposed,"  _Variety_ 5/20/1921 p. 43 col 3.
> "The Society of American Cinematographers at its meeting last week
> passed a resolution which it is believed will prevent Clara Hamon from
> securing any established cameraman to grind on any picture productions
> she may make."
> [Recall that early film cameras were operated by a crank on the side,
> like a barrell organ (which yields an "organ grinder", or like a coffee
> grinder.  So perhaps the operation of the movie camera is the origin of
> the term, not the notion that a studio grinds them out.  Or maybe a
> combination.]
> "Coast Film Notes" by Fred Schrader _Variety_ 7/1/1921 p. 27 col 1.
> "Harry "Snub" Pollard has started work on his eightieth comedy.  He is
> now grinding at the Hal Roach studio."
> [Internet Movie Database tells us that Snub was a prolific actor in the
> silent and early talky era -- "grind" here means "working on".]
> "Editrivia", _The Jinx_, #64, Oct 28, 1939 p. 448, col 1.
> "Those legit houses have now either fallen down or been revamped into
> movie grind emporiums."
> Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
> Caveats: NONE
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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