A Millstone Around One’s Neck

Meaning of “A Millstone Around One’s Neck”

This phrase “a millstone around one’s neck” means to put some burden on a person’s life or punishment that makes escape impossible.  It also means to force somebody takes up some responsibility or a job that they are trying to avoid.

Origin of “A Millstone Around Ones Neck”

It is quite certain that the origin of this phrase lies in the Bible. It has been given in Matthew 18:6 in almost all the translations of the Bible. The Wycliffe Bible the verse says, “It spedith to hym that a mylnestoon of assis be hangid in his necke and be drenchid in to the depnesse of the see.” Since then, the expression has turned into a proverbial idiom and it is used in English since the 14th century.

Examples from Literature

Examples #1

Matthew 18:6, King James Bible

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

This verse has been taken from the King James Bible. It is stated that the idiom or phrase has been borrowed from this verse of Matthew and twisted and turned into this short phrase to be used at various places like this one. The punishment of drowning those who offended the little ones is to tie a millstone around their neck as it takes the person down to the bottom of the water. Millstone is used to grind flour out of wheat in olden times.

Examples #2

Let the Children Come to Me by Michael Walker

Let the little children come to me.
They are sent forth like sheep amidst the wolves.
Their angels my Father in Heaven see,
While here on Earth they’re chased by Satan’s hooves.

Heaven is made up of such as these.
Lest you become like to a little child,
You shall not enter into Heaven’s seas.
My hand is turned against the man gone wild.

Brood of vipers! O, ye den of thieves!
A millstone should be hung around your neck
And cast into the sea, for my Heart grieves
To see the little ones whose lives you wreck!

Michael Walker has written this poem to shed light on the innocence of the little children and how they make the earth a better place to live. Describing the Biblical setting, Walker is of the view that innocence is apt to go to the heaven and as children are innocent, they chased by wolves on this earth, but Christ sees them from the Heaven above. The important thing to remember is the echo of Matthew 18:6 in the last stanza, where it states that the people who offend the little children are sent to the seas with millstones around their necks. It means people who mistreat or abuse children suffer a gruesome death and go to hell.

Examples #3

From The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

“He said that Ammu and Estha and Rahel were millstones around his neck. The backs of Rahel’s legs went wet and sweaty. Her skin slipped on the foamleather upholstery of the car seat. She and Estha knew about millstones. In Mutiny on the Bounty, when people died at sea, they were wrapped in white sheets and thrown overboard with millstones around their necks so that the corpses wouldn’t float. Estha wasn’t sure how they decided how many millstones to take with them before they set off on their voyage.”

Arundhati Roy has beautifully used this idiomatic phrase in her novel, The God of Small Things. These are the words of Chacko. He and Ammu are talking about the situation. Chacko is of the view that the children are an enormous burden on him. It is clear what millstone here means a financial burden. The first use is metaphorical as the children have proved a burden on him and the second use is literal as the mutineers used to be literally drowned in the sea, using weight tied to them.

Example #4

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.”

These are the last stanzas of the famous poem of S. T. Coleridge in which he has alluded to this phrase. The mariner is relating his tale when he utters these words that instead of a cross, there was an Albatross hung around his neck. In fact, this change from millstone to the Albatross has now become a norm. This legendary bird has been mentioned in various mythologies.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Examples #1: “His children have proved millstones around his neck in his old age by becoming a huge financial burden.” Here this phrase has been used metaphorically as it alludes to weight or financial burden that those children have become in his old age. It also alludes to the family burden.

Examples #2: “His disabled son is attached to him like a millstone around his neck. He never leaves him and does not let him leave him.” This phrase has been used as a simile in these sentences. His son turned out like a millstone for him, and the word “like” shows that it has been used as a simile.

Examples #3: “A millstone around his neck means was once considered a capital punishment in the ancient world where most of the city-states were located on the seashores.” Here the phrase has been likened to punishment or sentence awarded to a person. It is a metaphor as there is no comparison marker such as or like in this sentence.

Examples #4: “A millstone around his neck proved heavy for him.” The sentence here means that the person is carrying a huge burden like financial struggle or loss of a loved one.

Examples #5: “It seems that he does not care about the millstone around his neck, as he has always taken the responsibility of supporting his family.” Here the phrase has been used as a metaphor for the full family responsibility.