Someone asked in ELU chat how one would say "mettre de l'eau dans son moulin" in English.

Can anyone explain exactly what the French understand by the expression? Is the reference to a water-powered mill, or one that might mince up poor quality meat by-products to make sausage meat, for example?

And (crucially) can anyone offer any evidence to prove or disprove my theory that the English version is in fact related to the French one?

Please note that my French isn't that good, so if your English is better than my French (very likely! :) I'd appreciate it if you could post comments/answers in English.

  • @Laure: I did say my french isn't that good. I'd have felt a right nit if I'd changed it and it wasn't a typo. Jan 29, 2014 at 19:24
  • What makes you think that the two expressions are related? The only connection I see is that both involve a mill. Also, please explain the English expression, you can't hope this audience to be familiar with English idioms. Jan 29, 2014 at 19:50
  • Or did you mean “bring grist to the mill” rather than “all grist to the meal”? That would be far more likely to be related. Jan 29, 2014 at 19:53
  • @Gilles: Sorry - I thought all SO posts were supposed to be in English, which implies all posters should understand reasonably common usages (or at least, be able to google a few instances to see how it's used in context). In fact, Anglophones wouldn't normally talk about bringing grist to the mill. Mostly, we say it's all grist to the mill, meaning "that (possibly, unpromising) material can all be put to good use". Often in contexts where "good use" is in fact "bad use", from the speaker's point of view. No-one says "grist to the meal" Jan 29, 2014 at 20:10

1 Answer 1


I believe the correct usage is "Apporter de l'eau au moulin".

According to this site and this site in french and to this site and wikipedia, the meaning is not exactly the same.

In french it means that you help someone without knowing it, you're giving him/her "ammunition" against you without you even realize it, while in English it means "everything is a source of profit".

The "point of view" if I can put it that way, is one of a "3rd person" observing an argument between 2 persons for the French idiom, while it's more of a first person (the one who owns the mill) in English.


It seems that this site links both together.

Apparently, depending on the context these idioms vary in meaning, but they could mean the same thing.

  • I appreciate that the "current" meaning may not be considered exactly the same. I'm primarily asking if they were originally related (i.e. - have the same basic origin). The English one wouldn't normally be used to mean "everything is a source of profit" - it's more common in contexts like "what you just said actually helps the argument you're disagreeing with", or "this person can creatively make use of things which others see as of little value" Jan 29, 2014 at 19:31
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    From what you say and from here, apparently, both are linked. This would apparently invalidate this answer, obviously :P
    – user757
    Jan 29, 2014 at 19:38
  • It's very commendable of you to post that link! I wouldn't ask you to amend your answer if that's not how you see things, but you'll forgive me if I upvote the comment but not the answer! Jan 29, 2014 at 20:01
  • I have edited the answer to reflect the comment. And I'll forgive you :) I'm not sure that the first part of the answer should be removed as it would make the comments irrelevant!
    – user757
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:13
  • I assume you know exactly how you use the expression in French, and that it's important the person providing the grist/water doesn't realise that it will aid someone he probably doesn't want to help at all. I think there's often the same sense in English, but it's also often used in contexts where the speaker approves of what the miller can do with "unpromising material". Anyway, +1 following edit. Jan 29, 2014 at 20:17

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