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GET DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY ORIGIN

Friday November 5th, 2010
GET DOWN TO THE NITTY GRITTY

The most accepted origin of the phrase used to describe getting down to the harsh realities or the bottom of an issue remains disputed and somewhat controversial. Which is understandable as it is associated with the British slave trade of the 18th century and was first used at the ports of Liverpool and Bristol. It even became the centre of media debate following a tabloid report following the 'equality and diversity' course for Bristol Council employees in 2005 which led to a proposal that Penny Lane in Liverpool (named after slave-trader James Penny) should be renamed.

The term ‘nitty gritty’ allegedly referred to the ‘unimportant’ debris left at the bottom of slave ships after the human cargo had been removed. It has been suggested that the term was extended to refer to the slaves themselves; in particular those that were left below board because they were considered worthless to traders, meaning they were sick or dead. It is also suggested that ‘nitty gritty’ was a nautical variation of the word ‘nigger’ used by sailors on slave ships from different countries.
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Comments (3)
27/04/2012 @ 8:27 am
Stuart Denys
Absolute nonsense. The term 'nitty-gritty' is first recorded only in the late 1930s and may have been in use for a couple of decades before that amongst jazz musicians. If it had indeed been a common expression 200 hundred years earlier, this would have been documented. There is no recorded evidence of any connection with the slave trade, nor do any serious etymologists think there is a connection.
29/05/2011 @ 9:49 am
Steve
Yes well spotted Tony!
29/05/2011 @ 9:41 am
Tony Pilgrim
Having been watching the Andrew Marr show on BBC 1 this morning I am shocked that Andrew used the term { lets get down to the nitty gritty } during the program.
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