I'm translating some chapters of the book A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder by J. R. Partington with the Introduction by Bert S. Hall.

In the Introduction, page XIX, Bert S. Hall writes:

"Any history of early gunpowder should afford corning a major place, but such matters as wood species and grain size and shape are things that lie outside the realm of the chemist, and indeed, of the scientist."

Now, when I look up the word "corn" as a verb, I can only find it in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary which reads:

1: to form into grains : GRANULATE

2a: to preserve or season with salt in grains

b: to cure or preserve in brine containing preservatives and often seasonings corned beef

3: to feed with corn

All in all, I'm really confused by the wod "corn" here. I thought it might be a typo and actually was "corner", but I think it is highly unlikely.

The sentence is from the introduction to the book which was written by Bert S. Hall who I assume is an American native speaker. So I don't think it was just a misusage of a random word.

What also made me think it wasn't just a random misuse is that just 6 lines above in the same passage, Bert S. Hall uses the word "corn" in the sense of "granulate", and this might indicate a deliberate choice of the word "corn" in my sentence. However, it still doesn't make any sense to me.

So, anyone to help me figure this out? Any insight would be appreciated.

Google Books link to the e-book:

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    Regarding the question in the title: it doesn’t parse like that. “Corning” is the topic that the author thinks should be discussed when the broader topic of gunpowder is discussed.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 26, 2021 at 7:53
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    Wikipedia says, "In late 14th century Europe, gunpowder was improved by corning, the practice of drying gunpowder into small clumps to improve combustion and consistency". So I guess the author refers to "corning" in the context of gunpowder.
    – Justin
    Feb 26, 2021 at 7:53
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    wordnik.com/words/corning *…should afford the "process" OR the "making” of granulated gunpowder a major position / location… *
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 26, 2021 at 8:02
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    I obviously misinterpreted the sentence and ignored the right grammatical structure and focused on a single word. I am mortified but I'll keep the question open anyway as a reminder to myself of my haste and jumping into wrong conclusions. Thank you, guys, very much!
    – A.K.
    Feb 26, 2021 at 10:13
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    @A.K. No need for you to feel mortified. We've all misread sentences like this before. Every language has ambiguities, and English is no exception. Actually, if anything, it's a prime example.
    – PC Luddite
    Feb 27, 2021 at 3:35

1 Answer 1


The process of gunpowder manufacture requires the mixing of saltpetre (potassium nitrate, a strong oxidising agent), carbon (charcoal, a coarse substance) and sulphur (a solid). The explosion happens when the mixture is deflagrated to oxidise the carbon and sulphur, suddenly releasing a great deal of energy. This can only happen if the constituents are in intimate contact rather than in coarse block-like contact. For example, three bricks of the constituents laid side by side are unlikely to explode, but if the same quantities of fine grains are mixed (ever so gently!) they are extremely dangerous and vulnerable to the slightest spark. To make gunpowder, the constituents therefore must be mixed and milled to a fine grain size.

Sulphur and charcoal were separately ground small but then had to be mixed with water and saltpetre crystals to make a sludge that could be dried to form a cake. The cake then had to be ground in a corning mill to a fine grain. This process is fraught with risk, which is why gunpowder mills were situated well away from population.

afford = to make available, give forth, or provide naturally or inevitably

"The sun affords warmth to the earth." "a delay that will afford us more time"

Merriam Webster

Corning should therefore be given (afforded) an important place in any account of gunpowder manufacture.

The word corn occurs with similar meaning in corned beef, as you relevantly quote.

I add that the mills were also known as kerning mills. Kerning relates to the spacing between things (as with the granulation of gunpowder) and the word occurs elsewhere, for example:

Kerning typography is the spacing between individual letters or characters.


Here is a relevant illustration:

enter image description here

Popular Science

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    Oh, how blinded must I have been! You are absolutely right. I somehow couldn't see the grammatical structure there. Thank you very much!
    – A.K.
    Feb 26, 2021 at 10:11
  • Good question and very interesting stuff to think about!
    – Anton
    Feb 26, 2021 at 10:43
  • My answer was kindly edited to replace detonate by deflagrate. I intentionally used detonate in the sense of initiate (link.springer.com/article/10.1134/S1990793110030103). However, if speaking of the explosion itself, there is a difference, described in thoughtco.com/explosions-deflagration-versus-detonation-607316. The word to describe the explosion rather than its initiation depends on the speed of gas from the explosion. Detonation is supersonic as with TNT; deflagration is subsonic, as in the case of gunpowder. Despite my correct original, the edit may stand.
    – Anton
    Feb 27, 2021 at 18:00

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