When you hear the phrase daily grind, what comes to mind? Great coffee? Espresso? A latte, perhaps? No matter where you live, it’s likely there’s a coffee shop or roaster nearby bearing the name The Daily Grind. It makes sense: A day’s featured roast could certainly be thought of as the “daily grind.” Yet, the idiomatic expression actually has nothing to do with coffee at all! Read on to learn more.
What Does Daily Grind Mean?
The idiom daily grind refers to one’s everyday routine—typically one’s everyday work routine—that is monotonous, tedious, or dull, and thus tiresome. Maybe it’s also work that’s very difficult. But whether it’s truly laborious or not, it’s constant and unrelenting. And because it doesn’t change, it’s wearisome and exhausting. You will often hear or see the idiom used in the longer expression back to the daily grind, which is also sometimes written or said as simply back to the grind.
Here are some example sentences using the saying daily grind:
- It’s Monday; let the daily grind begin. The weekends are never long enough.
- I’m having such a relaxing time on my beach vacation without the kids. When it’s over, I’m going to have a hard time going back to the daily grind. I love and miss them, but being a mom sure is exhausting!
- I can’t wait to retire and leave the daily grind behind for good. My days are going to be open and free, and I’ll have lots of time for sailing and other hobbies that I enjoy.
- Assembly line work at the factory is steady and pays pretty well, but it’s truly a daily grind. I really wish I had a job that didn’t feel so repetitive and boring.
The Etymology of the Expression
You may have heard or read that the saying originated from the task of grinding or milling flour to make one’s daily bread—long before the days when you could head to the grocery store for a loaf. While you could certainly think of the everyday chore of grinding wheat into flour as routine, tedious, and exhausting (the same could be said for grinding coffee beans, for that matter!), it doesn’t appear this is where the expression came from.
Look up the word grind in the dictionary today, and you’ll see that, as a verb, in addition to meaning “to reduce to a powder by friction” it also means “to oppress or harass” and “to drudge,” just as when used as a noun, in addition to meaning “the act of grinding,” it also means “dreary, monotonous, or difficult labor, study, or routine” or “one who works or studies excessively.”
Language historians point to grind’s use in the 17th century as a verb to mean “to oppress” or “wear down” or “weaken,” and suggest it came to be used as a noun to describe a “dull, monotonous task” or “repetitive work” by the 19th century. Also by this time, daily was added probably to simply denote tedious work done every day, and the phrase caught on. In the mid-1800s, daily grind is reported to have appeared in print, in an article in The Illustrated London News.
Daily grind is an idiom. An idiom is an expression with an intended meaning that can’t typically be understood, or at least fully understood, just by looking at the words that comprise it. These words and phrases have a figurative rather than literal meaning. Even if you’ve never heard the term idiom, you have most likely heard many idiomatic expressions. Here are just a few of the most common idioms used today:
You’re in hot water.
His boss gave him the ax.
It’s time to face the music.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.
If you took the first example literally, you’d think it was describing a person standing in a bathtub full of hot water, perhaps. But the expression is actually used to describe a person who’s in trouble. Likewise, rather than literally being handed a tool for chopping wood, if you get the ax from your boss, it means you’re getting fired. It’s time to face the music means that it’s time to come to terms with the consequences of your actions. And when someone has hit the nail on the head, they’ve gotten an answer exactly right or done something exactly as it should have been done.
Daily grind may not be as confusing as some other idioms, but it’s not entirely straightforward either. As has been discussed already, if you were to take daily grind literally, you might think it had to do with a daily task of physically grinding either wheat or another grain, or coffee beans, or something else into a fine powder. Though, if you knew that grind can also mean dreary, dull, difficult drudgery, you’d have an easier time deducing the figurative meaning of “a monotonous and tiresome everyday routine.”
There are other common phrases with similar meanings to daily grind. For example, the expression back to the salt mines or go back to the salt mines is used to talk about reluctantly returning to one’s daily work that is difficult or unenjoyable. Prisoners were once sent to work in the salt mines. Although the term originated from that fact, today it is used ironically or humorously, and is not meant to actually imply that level of hardship or unfair treatment in the workplace.
The saying rat race is also used to describe a wearisome routine, usually specifically fatiguing and unrelenting efforts to get ahead in one’s career. The idiom back in the harness or back to the harness also conveys the idea of resuming one’s daily work activity. And, the saying pound sand can refer to menial labor; learn much more about this expression here. As mentioned above, daily grind is often used as part of the longer expression back to the daily grind.
The phrase daily grind is used to describe the tediousness and monotonousness of one’s everyday course of procedure and action. Typically, it’s used to describe the difficulty and/or boredom associated with one’s daily work activities, although it can be used to convey these feelings about any type of routine. You may often hear or see the expression as back to the daily grind.