Meaning of “Nitty-Gritty” Origin of Phrase with examples.



The heart of the matter; the basic essentials; the harsh realities.


Any turn of phrase that is suspected as being racist is subject to close scrutiny, especially in the USA; hence the euphemistic ‘N-word’. Reports that a harmless word like picnic originated as the name of a lynching party only have to be voiced to be taken seriously and become part of folk-etymology.

In that context it has been alleged that ‘nitty- gritty’ is a derogatory reference to the English slave trade of the 18th century. The phrase is usually used with the prefix ‘getting down to’ and there is a sense that, whatever the nitty-gritty is, it is at the bottom of something.

The suggestion is that it originated as a term for the unimportant debris left at the bottom of ships after the slaves had been removed and that the meaning was extended to include the slaves themselves.

That report became widely known following newspaper reports of an ‘equality and diversity’ course for Bristol Council employees in 2005. Had the firm that was conducting the training known that their claims were to reach so wide a public they may have chosen their words more carefully.

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