What, if any, are essential differences between mincing and grinding?

I tend to associate mincing with soft foods (other materials?) such as meat. In particular, Merriam Webster has the following (for the transitive verb):

  1. a : to cut or chop into very small pieces
    b : to subdivide minutely; especially : to damage by cutting up

  2. : to utter or pronounce with affectation

  3. a: archaic : minimize
    b : to restrain (words) within the bounds of decorum

Here 3.a points out the etymology and maybe the technique of mincing, while 3.b suggest metaphorical usage (mince one's words).

Grinding might connote harder materials, such as pepper or nuts. Again from MW (transitive verb):

  1. to reduce to powder or small fragments by friction (as with the teeth)

  2. to press together and move with a rotating or back-and-forth motion—see bruxism

Etymonline gives OE grindan "to rub together, grate, scrape" and earlier roots with the same meaning.

Apparently, one can also grind beef, for example.

Is there any difference in the technique of mincing and grinding different materials? Or in the intensity of crushing? In the accompanying sounds? (Hopefully grinding one's teeth is mainly about the sound, not producing anything.)

Or is it just a matter of collocation — mince is customary with some materials, grind with other materials?

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    British mince their beef and sell it as minced beef. Americans grind theirs and sell it as ground beef. But the machines they use and the nature of the end product are to all intents identical. – WS2 Feb 25 '15 at 17:56
  • @WS2 So you propose the difference is regional (BrE vs AmE) as regards meat. No difference otherwise? – anemone Feb 25 '15 at 18:01
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    I've always perceived mincing to be chopping up finely, i.e. using a sharp edge, and grinding to be rub against a hard, flat surface. The results may or may not be similar, but the processes are different (AmE speaker). – Dan Bron Feb 25 '15 at 18:05
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    Well, if you're talking about the way someone walks there's a huge difference. – Hot Licks Feb 25 '15 at 18:07
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    In principle, mincing is slicing/chopping smallish longitudinal segments (say max 1cm long, and 1-2mm thick. This makes onions, for instance, basically dissolve when cooked; meat chopped this way is called minced meat or mincemeat and a medieval sweet/savory pie is named after it. Grind, on the other hand, is something you don't do with a knife -- it means repeatedly scraping and scratching some surface with a tool, which is often round so it can be powered. Thus meat grinders are those big things with cranks that make meat for sausages and hamburgers. – John Lawler Feb 25 '15 at 21:00
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Mincing has the connotation of being cut with an instrument with a slicing edge, whereas grinding utilizes friction between two or more points. More about the physical action and tools involved rather than materials; although because of the difference in technique, they have varying effectivness with materials of varying consistency.

Both turns of phrase make sense describing said techniques metaphorically and physically, respectively.

  • Thank you! Not quite pertinent to the original post, but -- what would be some good example of metaphorical grinding? – anemone Feb 25 '15 at 21:14
  • To grind down your opponent, to refer to the workday as the daily grind, and to have something grind your gears, I suppose. Those are the three I can think of. Besides mincing your words I'm not sure there are many other mincing metaphors. Maybe a mincing walk? Not sure if that is a metaphor or a proper physical descriptive rooted in the same archaic use of the 3b. definition. – Squirrel Girl Feb 25 '15 at 21:59

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