A Compendium of Windmill Sayings, Aphorisms, and Terms

Windmills of New England:
Their Genius, Madness, History & Future

by Dan Lombardo

Part One: Windmill Sayings and Aphorisms

And the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more.
The Bible, Revelation 18:22.

As stout as a miller’s waistcoat, that takes a thief by the throat every day.
German saying referring to the suspicion that millers cheated in their measurement of flour.

Back of the loaf is the snowy flour,
And back of the flour is the mill
And back of the mill is the wind and the shower,
And the sun and the Father’s will.
Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858 – 1902.

Come to a grinding halt.
If the millstones ground too close while the wind was dying, the mill would “come to a grinding halt.”

Daily grind.
The repetitive nature of milling led to the concept of “the daily grind.”

Dry-land sailors.
Another name for windmillers. Refers to the similar skills needed to sail a ship or run a windmill.

Fair to middling.
The quality of ground meal would be fair, middling, or fine. To be “fair to middling” is to be below one’s best.

Flag on the mill, ship in the bay.
A saying from Sag Harbor, Long Island. Refers to signals conveyed by flags, and other means, from windmills to ships.

Folk made bread with the wind.
Said by the character John Ridd in R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.

For if the flour be fresh and sound,
Who careth in what mill ‘twas ground?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Grist for one’s mill.
A thought or idea to ponder, to “chew over.”

Here lies an honest miller, and that is Strange.
Epitaph on an Essex, England, headstone.

I feel as stupid, from all you’ve said as if a mill wheel whirled in my head.
Goethe, from Faust, Act I.

Less good from genius we may find
Than that from perseverance flowing
So have good grist and hand to grind
And keep the mill a-going.
Robert Burton, 1576 – 1640.

Men grind and grind in the mill of a truism and nothing comes out but what was put in.
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The mill goes toiling slowly round with steady and solemn creak.
Eugene Field.

The miller’s hogs were always fat.
American saying.

Millery, millery, dusty soul,
How many sacks have you stole?
English nursery rhyme.

Milling around.
Revolving, and by extension wandering or meandering in one area.

Mills and wives are ever wanting.
English proverb.

A millstone and the human heart are driven ever round.
If they have nothing else to grind, they themselves must be ground.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

A millstone around one’s neck.
“ Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin."
The Holy Bible: New International Version, Luke 17:1-3.

A millwright’s sweat is strong enough to kill a snake.
A common saying, with “toad” sometimes substituted for “snake.”

No mill, no meal; no will, no deal.
A Greek-Roman proverb.

No miller can enter heaven.
A saying from Normandy.

One who on earth has been a miller tells nought but lies afterward.
A saying from Normandy.

Put a miller, a weaver, and a tailor in a bag, and shake them. The first that comes out will be a thief.
English saying.

Put through the mill.
To be put through an ordeal, as corn is ground between stones.

Put your nose to the grindstone.
If millstones ground too hot, the flour would become cooked, emitting a burning smell. Occasionally, flour would burst into flames. The miller kept his “nose to the grindstone” to detect the temperature and condition of the meal.

Put your shoulder to the wheel.
When a miller had to turn a windmill into the wind, he “put his shoulder to the wheel” by pushing the wheel at the bottom of the mill’s tailpiece. Some tailpieces had a yoke for the miller’s shoulder. Some millers used a horse.

Rule of thumb.
To test the quality and grind of the flour, the miller would take a pinch of it between his thumb and finger. If too coarse, the flour would be ground again.

Run of the mill.
The ordinary, daily grind.

Safe as a thief in a mill.
Millers were sometimes considered to be thieves for the way they measured flour. A thief in a mill would presumably be among friends. See also, “What is bolder than a miller’s neck-cloth....” and “As stout as a miller’s waistcoat....”

The same old grind.
Similar to “the daily grind.”

Show your metal.
Millstones often needed to be dressed (re-carved). When a miller hired an itinerant dresser, he could tell whether the man was experienced by noting the slivers of metal (thrown off from his carving tools) embedded in his hands. Variant of “show your mettle,” “mettle” deriving from “metal.”

Take your turn.
To “take your turn” is to be the next person to have corn or wheat ground by the turning
of the millstones.

Though the mills of God grind slowly,
yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
with exactness grinds he all.
Friedrich von Logau, Retribution, 1655.

Three sheets to the wind.
If only three of the four arms are set with sails, a windmill is unbalanced and tipsy, like a drunk.

Tilting at windmills.
To foolishly go up against an imagined enemy. From Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Quixote charges windmills which he believes are giants. “Tilting” refers to the thrusting of a lance in jousting.

Weep millstones.
To weep large, heavy tears.

What is bolder than a miller’s neck-cloth which takes a thief by the throat every morning?
English saying.

Who comes first to the mill, first must grind.
Saxony proverb.

Who so cometh first to mille, first grynt.
From Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

The Windmill.
A tap dancing move that involves rotating the arms like a windmill.

You can never tell upon whose grain the miller’s pig was fattened.
English proverb.

Your eyes are so sharpe that you cannot only look
Through a millstone, but cleane through the minde.
John Lyly, 1553 – 1601

Part Two: A Glossary of Terms

A storage bin for grain or meal.

Large iron tongs suspended from a crane, used to lift off the upper stone
of a pair for dressing or to make other adjustments to the stones.

Balance Rynd
A curved iron bar that crosses the eye of the runner millstone, fitting into slots or pockets on either side. Also called a millstone bridge or crossbar. See also “Rynd.”

Balance Weights
Used to balance the runner stone.

A decorative date board on Dutch windmills.

Bed Stone
The lower stationary millstone in a pair of millstones. Also called the nether stone.

Cutting tool for dressing millstones.

Storage containers for grain, usually on the upper floor of a mill, from which grain would be fed into millstone hoppers. Also called garners.

A cushion usually made of a partially filled sack of meal or bran, used as a cushion by a millstone dresser when dressing the millstones.

The arms or vanes of a windmill, attached to the windshaft.

A machine used to sift flour into lots of different textures or degrees
of fineness.

Bolting Cloth
Cloth of varying weave used to sift flour into lots according to texture and size. Sometimes made of silk, in which case referred to as “silks.”

A band of wood or iron on the outer rim of the brake wheel, controlled by the brake lever, staff, or brake rope (known as the gripe).

The outer coating of a grain of wheat, rye, barley, or corn. Oats and buckwheat have an outer coating that is a "hull."

The middle section of a millstone.

Breast Beam
The horizontal beam supporting the neck of the wind shaft.

Bridge Tree
A lever beam which carries the lower end of the spindle and thus bears the weight of the runner stone. It may be raised or lowered to alter the distance between the grinding surfaces of the millstones in order to produce a finer or coarser meal. See also “Tentering Staff.”

Butterfly Furrow
The smallest of the four millstone furrows in one quarter of a millstone in quarter dress. See also “Fly Furrow.”

The iron casting on the poll end of the wind shaft to accommodate the blades and sails.

Cant Posts
The corner posts of a smock mill.

The top of a windmill, containing the mill’s machinery. The variety of caps topping off windmills add to their distinctive regional styles. See also “Dome Cap,” “Flemish Cap,” “Kentish Cap,” “Norfolk Cap,” “Pent Roof Cap,” and “Sussex Cap.”

Cap Frame
The horizontal timber frame that supports the base of the cap.

Circular Furrow Dress Pattern
See “Sickle Dress Pattern.”

The act of cutting the fine grooves (cracks, drills, feathering, or stitching) along the
lands of a millstone.

The fine grooves cut into the face or lands of a millstone in the areas between
the furrows.

The circular timber track on top of the body of a mill on which the cap turns. A live curb has wheels to make the turning of the cap easier; a dead curb does not.

Custom Mill
A relatively small milling operation that ground enough flour and meal to satisfy the needs of a local community. The miller was paid in kind, keeping a percentage of the ground meal for himself. The "miller’s toll" was set by law and ranged from 10 to 20 percent. These small mills became known as “custom mills” because they ground from coarse to fine, according to the needs (custom) of the local people.

A square or round shaft made of iron and/or wood. It terminates with a fork or crutch which, while rotating, taps the shoe, thus feeding grain into the millstones. Also called a “dandelion.”

See “Damsel.”

Dome Cap
A plain, dome-shaped windmill cap without the reverse curves of a Sussex (or Ogee) Cap. Common on the windmills of Rhode Island.

Drag Stick
A stick for unclogging grain from the eye of a millstone.

Drainage Mill
A windmill used for land drainage. Widely used in Holland.

The layout or pattern of furrows on a millstone.

The person who chisels the millstone furrows.

The process of cutting grooves (cracks or furrows) into the face of the millstone, in order to provide the shearing action in grinding. Also the term for sharpening the existing dress. Also called “facing.”

Dust Floor
The top floor of a smock mill.

The center hole in a millstone. In the runner stone the eye is always round. In a bed stone the center hole may be either round or square, depending upon the type of millstone-bearing housing used.

Face Gear (or Face Wheel)
A gear wheel with cogs mortised into its face, usually used in conjunction with a lantern pinion.

Another term for dressing.

Facing Hammer
A tool resembling a multiple-edged chisel used for dressing or facing a millstone.

Fang Staff
The brake lever.

Feed Shoe
A chute that guides grain from the hopper into the eye of the stone.

To flake a windmill is to disassemble it for the purpose of moving it to another site.

Flemish Cap
A cone-shaped windmill cap with a dormer, from which projected the windshaft and the arms. It’s a style older than the Kentish Cap, according to historian James Owens, and tops the windmill on the Eastham Common on Cape Cod.

Flour Dresser Machine
A machine for separating flour from the rest of the ground meal.

Fly Furrow
See “Butterfly Furrow.”

Furrowing Stick
A wooden stick or straight edge used to mark out the line of the furrows used in dressing the millstones.

The grooves cut into the grinding surface or lands of the millstone.

The stage around the body of some smock and tower mills. Used for access to the arms and sails.

See “Bins.”

Grain Hopper
A hopper above the vat which holds the grain to be milled.

The material ground in a mill, e.g. corn, wheat, or rye.

A section of millstone face with a pattern of lands and grooves.

See “Stone Case” or “Vat.”

An open-topped container tapered to feed grain into the millstones.

Hopper Ladder
See “Horse.”

A wooden framework on top of the millstone case which holds the hopper, shoe, and damsel in position. Also called “a hopper ladder.”

Journeyman Furrow
The second largest furrow in a quarter of a millstone in quarter dress pattern. It is parallel and immediately adjacent to the master furrow on one side and the apprentice furrow on the other side.

Kentish Cap
One of the oldest caps, the Kentish Cap was common on the early post mills. It’s a round vault, like a tube cut in half, with flat ends. The style was common in Kent, England, and also in parts of Sussex and Essex.

The areas between the furrows on the grinding surface of a millstone. They are high parts of patterns on the surfaces of millstones.

Language of the Windmill
See “Saint Andrew’s Cross” and “Saint George’s Cross.”

Lantern Pinion
A pinion gear consisting of round staves or rungs mortised between two discs, used either as a wallower, or as a millstone pinion.

Lighter Staff
See “Tentering Staff.”

Another term for a runner stone.

The term for bringing the windmill into the wind.

Main Shaft
The vertical shaft from the wallower to the spur wheel.

Master Furrow
The largest furrow in a quarter of a millstone in quarter-dress, determining the boundary of the quarter.

Meal Floor
The floor below the millstones, where the freshly ground meal is received.

Meal Spout
A spout that conveys the meal from the millstones to the meal bin or bagger.

The coarsest part of the wheat meal ground by a mill; the last product excepting the bran remaining after finer grades of flour are sifted out in the bolting process. A mediocre grade of flour, or the middle grade of flour. Also called “midds.” See also “Sharps” and “Shorts.”

Mill Bill
A chisel-ended tool used for dressing or sharpening the grinding surface of millstones. Also called “a mill chisel.”

Mill Pick
See “Mill Bill.”

Miller's Toll
The portion of ground meal retained by the miller as payment for his services. In the United States, usually ten to twenty per cent of the meal ground was the accepted toll. Local law governed how much the miller could take in tolling.

Millstone Bridge
See “Balance Rynd.”

A set of two millstones, consisting of an upper (or runner) millstone and the lower (or bed) stone. Also called a “run” (of stones).

Mortar and Pestle
A simple grinding apparatus in which a receptacle (mortar) is used to hold grain while it is crushed by a club shaped implement (pestle).

Multure Bowl
The bowl used by the miller to measure his toll. See also “Miller’s Toll.”

Net Metering
If a modern home or business windmill produces more electricity than is needed at a specific time, utility companies will buy the extra electricity. In Net Metering, the meter turns backward while excess energy is supplied to the power company.

Nether Stone
The lower stone of a set of millstones. Also called the “bed stone.”

Norfolk Cap
A particularly aerodynamic windmill cap, shaped like the bottom of a boat turned upside down. Like a boat, the sides are broad and taper at the ends. It was used in the Norfolk Broads of England, in Lancashire (in a larger version), and in the southwest of Denmark.

Outside Winder
A smock or tower mill whose cap is turned by a tail pole.

Overdrift Mill
A mill with the runner stone driven from above.

Paint Staff
A wooden, straight-edged staff used to test the surface level of a millstone. Also called a “proof staff.”

A term used to describe the capacity of a mill, referring to the number of pairs of millstones installed; for example, a “two pair mill,” a “three pair mill.”

Pent Roof Cap
An early windmill cap, it is a simple peak, like the roof of a house. Many Cape Cod windmills have this type of cap.

Post Mill
The earliest type of windmill in America. The blades and all the machinery were contained in one box-like millhouse. The millhouse was held up by a single post, and the post was supported by trestles. The millhouse revolved on a tallowed wooden collar on the post so that the sails could face into the wind. The mill was turned when a man wheeled the tailpiece (a long pole sloping from the box to a wheel on the ground) into place.

The portion of meal or flour paid to the miller. Also called the “toll.”

Proof Staff
See “Paint Staff.”

A section of the surface of a millstone defined by master furrows, not necessarily one fourth the surface area of a millstone.

Quarter Dress
A form of millstone dress using a series of straight furrows, the largest of which divide the surface of the millstone into regions called "quarters."

Turning a windmill 90 degrees into the wind to halt it.

An early, simple form of rotary grist mill, consisting of a stationary lower bed stone and an upper runner stone usually rotated by hand with the aid of a stick.

Quill Stick
A flat piece of wood with a hole to accommodate a feather quill at one end. The other end contains a square hole that fits onto the millstone spindle. It is used to test the millstone spindle for balanced, upright running. Also called a “jack stick,” “tram stick,” or “trammel.”

A mixture of red oxide or lamp black powder and water, used on a paint staff. The mixture marks the high spots on a millstone to determine whether it is level. Also call “tiver.”

The block on the shoe against which the damsel strikes (thereby causing the shoe to agitate), to ensure an even flow of grain from the hopper to the millstones. This is usually made of hard wood while the shoe is made of soft pine. At times the rap is covered with a leather strap to dampen the sounds of the damsel striking against the shoe.

On windmill power turbines, the rotors are the parts usually called “Blades,” or “Arms” on traditional windmills.

A pair of millstones. A term also used for the capacity of a mill. See also “Pair.”

Runner Stone
The upper, moving millstone of a pair of millstones.

A crossbar containing the bearing on which the upper runner stone of a pair of millstones rests and is balanced.

Sack Boy
A device for holding open sacks.

Sack Hoist
A method of hoisting sacks or barrels vertically in a mill using a gear-driven system or a windlass/barrel-hoist system. It was used to lift sacks from carts, wagons, boats, and the lower floors of the mill.

Saddle Stone Mill
An early, simple grinding apparatus in which meal is ground between a saddle shaped stone and a rounded stone that is rolled over it.

Sail Stock
The assembly for sails, attached to the windshaft.

Saint Andrew’s Cross
When the arms of a windmill were at rest in a balanced, diagonal cross, the position was called a “Saint Andrew’s Cross.”

Saint George’s Cross
If the arms of a windmill were set in a vertical cross, the position was called a “Saint George’s Cross.” Said to have been used as a signal that “the miller is away.” If there was a death in the community, the sails would be stopped just prior to the vertical position. Mourning could also be noted by removing some of the boards on the arms – the more boards removed, the closer the relationship of the miller to the deceased. If the miller himself died, many crossboards were removed and the arms turned slowly during the funeral.

Salt-producing equipment consisting of a windmill used to pump seawater into vats for evaporation.

See “Middlings.”

A tapered trough vibrated to feed grain into the eye of the runner stone for grinding between the millstones.

See “Middlings.”

Shutdown Systems
In electric power windmills, if the windmill fails or the wind becomes too fierce, the system automatically turns the blades out of the wind and applies brakes.

Sickle Dress
A form of millstone dress using a series of semi-circular furrows. Also called “circular furrow dress.”

See “Bolting Cloth.”

The outer edge of the grinding surface of a millstone.

Smock Mill
In the 17th century, a new style of tower mill was developed – the smock mill. These wooden towers sloped along eight sides, lending them the appearance of a countryman’s linen smock. Made with large oak beams, pine floors and sheathing, and cedar shingles. The smock mill is the type of windmill most often seen in New England.

A sliding shutter controlling the flow of grain from hopper to shoe.

Speed Control System
In electric power windmills, a system that shuts down the windmill if certain speeds are exceeded.

The shaft on which the runner millstone rotates.

A projecting gallery around a tower or smock mill. Provides access to the sails and tail pole. Also known as the reefing stage.

See “Sail Stock.”

Stone Case
A circular wooden enclosure around a pair of millstones. Also called “casing,” “hoop,” “husk,” “tun,” or “vat.”

Stone Dresser
A man whose profession is to re sharpen or dress millstones.

Storm Hatch
The access hatch over the neck bearing of the windshaft. Allows access from the mill to the blades and sails.

A straight-edge tool used to level off grain or meal in the toll dish. Also called a “strickle.”

Sussex Cap
A round, somewhat onion-shaped windmill cap. It has a slight upward, reverse curve that ends in a finial knob. Also known as “ogee-shaped,” it was also found in the East Midlands, the northeast of England, and the northeast of Denmark.

The eye of the runner stone.

An attachment to the edge of the runner stone which sweeps the meal from the vat into chutes to the bins below. Also called the “tag.”

See “Sweepers.”

Tail Pole
A spar projecting from the cap of a mill to the ground. Used to rotate the cap and blades of the mill.

Describes a mill caught by a sudden change of wind, putting pressure on the wrong side of the sails.

The process of adjusting the gap between the upper and lower millstones by raising or lowering the brayer and bridge tree.

Tentering Staff
A beam, or handle, connected to the bridge tree by the brayer, permitting the bridge tree to be raised or lowered and thus adjusting the gap between the upper and lower millstones. Also called a “lighter staff.”

A turned wooden handle that holds the bill.

Tidal Mill
A water mill harnessing energy from tidal water when it floods a salt marsh or the mouth of a river.

A red ochre used for marking millstones. See also “Raddle.”

A portion of meal or flour paid to the miller. Also called the “pottle.”

Tower Mill
In the 16th century, the Flemish invented the tower mill, a technical advance over the post mill. With a simple shift in thinking, it was deduced that only the blades and cap of a windmill needed to turn, thereby allowing all the gears and the tons of millstones to remain stationary. There were two types of tower mills, the first being built of stone or brick and circular in shape. Often a wooden gallery or stage was built part way up the tower to allow the miller easy access to the sails. The second type was the smock mill.

A wooden staff used to check true movement of the spindle. See also “Quill Stick.”

Tram Stick
See “Quill Stick.”

See “Quill Stick.”

Tramp Iron
Loose bits of metal in the grain.

The removable wooden casing around millstones. Also called a “stone case” or “vat.”

Urban Windmills
Small, stainless-steel electric power windmills mounted on roofs of businesses and homes in urban areas.

See “tun” or “stone case.”

Vertical Shaft
The long pole connecting the wind shaft to the runnerstone.

Wagon Wheel
The wheel attached to the bottom of the tail pole, used to rotate the mill.

The gear wheel at the top of the vertical shaft. It connects to the brake wheel on the windshaft.

Warning Bell
A bell which rings when the grain content of the hopper gets too low.

Whips are the poles, bolted into the face of the stock, which hold the sail assemblies.

Wind Farms
When windmills are grouped together into a single wind power plant, they are known as “wind farms.” They are constructed both on land and off-shore, where wind currents are more reliable.

The process of turning a mill to head into the wind.

The horizontal shaft carrying the blade and sail assembly (outside the mill) and the brake wheel (inside the mill).

The wooden bars projecting downwards from the tail pole, against which the miller set his shoulders when winding (turning) the mill.

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