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Axe

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To hang up one’s axe.” To retire from business, to give over a useless project. The allusion is to the ancient battle-axe, hung up to the gods when the fight was done. All classical scholars will call to mind the allusion of Horace to a similar Roman custom. Being snubbed by Pyrrha, he says, “He will hang up his axe upon her wall,” or more literally, his “drenched garments on the temple-walls of Neptune.” (1 Odes, V. 14–17.) (See Ask.)

To put the axe on the helve. To selve a difficulty. To hit the right nail on the head.

To send the axe after the helve. To spend good money after bad, or under the hope of recovering bad debts.

He has an axe to grind. Some selfish motive in the background; some personal interest to answer. Franklin tells of a man who wanted to grind his axe, but had no one to turn the grindstone. Going to the yard where he saw young Franklin, he asked the boy to show him how the machine worked, and kept praising him till his axe was ground, and then laughed at him for his pains.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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