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"Mill" is usually used to describe the process of making flour (grinding), to describe a wind or water mill, or a factory.

Since the process of milling or grinding consists of making small pieces or powder out of objects, I was wondering if the word "mill" can be used figuratively as in kill, destroy, obliterate or tear to pieces?

For instance, in the context of a competitive computer game, would it make sense to say something like "I was milled" as in "I was obliterated" when losing a game as a kind of way to add a bit of color to the expression?

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    Have you looked it up in dictionaries to see if any of them have a metaphorical meaning? Personally, I'm not sure people would understand it, because one of the primary meanings of milling is to shape or dress a (usually metal) object, and there are several similar meanings around industrial processes, refining, smoothing, etc, none of which seem relevant to losing a game. But maybe in some contexts? Have you seen it used? Would it be used in your native language? Is this in poetry, or everyday writing?
    – Stuart F
    Jul 17, 2023 at 21:00
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    When you mean you were ground down (or ground up), you can substitute milled. But that's better in a zone where the reader expects it: sesame into tahini, coffee beans into ground coffee, grain milled into flour. Even wearing an opponent down grinds them, thus milling: He wore down my patience till I was milled. Jul 17, 2023 at 22:03
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    Yes! Very colorful. You’d just be applying the OED’s definition (to grind or crush [a solid substance] to powder or pulp) figuratively. I was freakin’ milled by the zombies. Next thing you know, I’ll be toast... Jul 18, 2023 at 2:37
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    'Pulverise' is a synonym that would actually work here, having the metaphorical broadening well established. Jul 18, 2023 at 11:55
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    When I hear mill, I think of cultivation, not destruction.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 18, 2023 at 18:48

11 Answers 11

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You could, but I think it would take an explanation. (Though after the explanation it does make sense.) It's certainly not an established sense of the word by any imaginational stretch, though Wiktionary does have one meaning of mill that comes somewhat close:

(transitive, slang) To beat; to pound

Their quotations, however, are a little different from how you seem to want to use it.

If you'd like to make your expression more colorful, you could use the verb to cream, which has your intended meaning. Wiktionary gives:

(slang) To obliterate, to defeat decisively.
We creamed the opposing team!

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    But do beware that there are other meanings to the word "creamed".
    – psmears
    Jul 17, 2023 at 21:13
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    Interesting. Is cream used in this expression because it basically refers to the act of "beating" the milk to get the cream? Jul 17, 2023 at 21:17
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    @FrancescoPasa - See this EL&U Q :) Jul 17, 2023 at 21:20
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    Milk does not become cream, churning cream turns it into butter. Jul 17, 2023 at 22:01
  • Lots of good answers here. I decided for this one because I don't only want a synonym (although that's welcome), I also wanted to understand the word better. Jul 18, 2023 at 20:14
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Something that none of the other answers have brought up so far is that mill already has an established technical meaning in certain subsets of the gaming community.

In the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, the verb mill is defined to mean "to place that many cards from the top of a player's deck into the graveyard [a discard zone]". This is defined in 701.13 of the Magic: The Gathering comprehensive rules.

For a player to mill a number of cards, that player puts that many cards from the top of their library into their graveyard.

For someone unaccustomed to the Magic subculture, mill might seem like an unusual name for this effect. It derives from the card Millstone, an early card printed with this effect. In fact, the rules text of the latest printing of Millstone shows how this word is used in this gaming context:

Target player mills two cards.

Because Magic has an outsized influence on the trading-card game genre as one of the first (and one of the most popular) trading-card games, the term mill has found usage in other trading-card game communities for analogous effects.

For example, a "Mill Rogue" deck in the game Hearthstone is built around forcing the player's opponent to draw too many cards from their deck, thus wasting the extra cards. The entry for "mill" on the Hearthstone wiki even acknowledges the origins of the term in Magic:

Milling itself is a trope imported from Magic the Gathering (MTG) to Hearthstone (HS) vocabulary. The trope namer, Millstone, was the first card in MTG to feature the mechanic of directly removing cards from decks.

Similarly, Yu-Gi-Oh also has the concept of "Mill Decks", again attributing the concept to Magic:

The name "Mill Deck" comes from Millstone, a card in the first widely-popular TCG, Magic the Gathering.

In summary the word mill has a very strongly established technical meaning in at least one gaming genre. Using this word in a different way might lead to confusion if the people you are talking to also happen to be card-game players and are familiar with this specific usage of the word!

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    Nice post, and you're right that none of the other answers have realized this. It's uncertain whether the OP's intent is to use this in a gaming context, or just as general slang, but if it's the former, this is certainly relevant. +1 Jul 18, 2023 at 2:55
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    One thing I would also reference is that all of these games have a rule where attempting to draw a card from a deck that no longer has any cards has a negative effect ranging from taking health damage to outright losing the game. They also tend to have a cap on how many cards players can have in their hand, so any cards that are drawn with a full hand are generally immediately milled.
    – Nzall
    Jul 18, 2023 at 9:47
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    In addition to this established use in gaming, "milling" also has very specific (and related) uses in engineering (e.g. metalworking and road building), where it has more to do with the shaping of something than the particles created in the process. For people more familiar with these senses than grain processing, a similar confusion might happen.
    – Theodore
    Jul 18, 2023 at 13:40
  • There is a chess tactic called a windmill for which I have heard the word "mill" used.
    – Wastrel
    Jul 18, 2023 at 13:40
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    @Nzall yes, it's many years since I played Magic but I have heard people say "I was milled" to mean "I lost the game because my opponent emptied my deck" (which would directly conflict with OP's suggested meaning). Jul 19, 2023 at 8:29
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The word mill already has a metaphorical meaning. The expression

They've gone through the mill,

means that they have gone through a very difficult experience. [See Cambridge dictionary and Merriam-Webster dictionary.] It doesn't mean they've died.

So you would be fighting to establish another meaning for a variant of an already established idiom.

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  • Yes, to be "put through the mill" generally means to be harrowed but short of outright destruction.
    – Steve
    Jul 22, 2023 at 20:34
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"I got pulverized".

Literally, "reduced to fine particles, powder".

That's an existing way of saying, in American English, possibly other Englishes too, that you were soundly defeated in a game or competition, or in other contexts too, where you emerge from the ordeal, whatever it was (a legal hearing, an oral exam, a presentation before management or the board of directors, a fist-fight, etc) feeling destroyed.

It can be used as a threat:

I'm gonna pulverize you.

Here's a use in a newspaper story about Sarah Paretsky, an author of detective novels whose protagonist is a woman detective, showing (obliquely) that the phrase can shade from the colloquial into the so-called "hard-boiled" lingo that seeks to emulate the talk of ruffians:

Tough and independent, V.I. (only paternalistic throwbacks call her Vicki) lives alone and likes it. She packs a gun, drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch and is a Chicago Cubs fan. Sublimely indifferent to what people think of her, she tosses bills in the trash and sleeps with men who take her fancy. V.I. gets beaten up at least once in every book, but not in a woman-as-victim way: She can pulverize a man’s jaw with a single blow, and it takes at least two, sometimes four, thugs to overpower her.

A WOMAN OF MYSTERY : Like V.I. Warshawski, her hard-boiled Chicago detective, Sara Paretsky goes through life with her elbows out and her heart on her sleeve. Los Angeles Times. DEC. 22, 1991

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  • Judging from a comment on the OP, "pulverise" has also taken on this meaning in British English.
    – Theodore
    Jul 18, 2023 at 13:33
  • Yeah, "Pulverise" has a similar meaning and usage in BrE, though of course it is spelled with an S not a Z.
    – MikeB
    Jul 20, 2023 at 11:31
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No.

"Milling" by itself is a specific physical transformation already:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milling_(machining)

It's a way of removing material from the surface of an object, similar to but distinct from grinding.

More generally, "mill" refers to industrial worksites that were traditionally powered by waterwheels or wind vanes. So watermills and windmills power the millstones that grind grain, but they also power the sawmills and lumbermills that shape wood into boards. Later, textile mills drove the British industrial revolution. I'm not sure whether steel mills ever were water powered, and I'm similarly unclear on the origin of powder mills.

Bottom line, "mill" is crammed full of meanings already, and would not mean "destroy" without additional context. In your example, it would only make sense to say "I was milled" if the game was about grinding corn, or if it was part of a larger metaphor: "The other team bagged me up, took me to the windmill, and milled me to dust. Now I'm just a bowl of sad cornmeal." (It would be a pretty weird metaphor, but it would be clear.)

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  • So glad someone has some sense. :)
    – Lambie
    Jul 22, 2023 at 15:06
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You can do this if you like. The problem you encounter is that few people will pick up on the analogy with milling grain, since few people now live on a farm or work on a farm.

In the United States it’s about 2 percent, a little more in Europe and perhaps the strong economies of East Asia. But there are also major economies that depend on rice rather than wheat, which is the major grain that gets milled.

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A 'mill' is also a fight, a boxing or wrestling match, with 'to mill' as the verb. Victorian slang, but still current for readers of Frazer McDonald books.

The mills of Proverbs that grind slowly, yet grind exceeding small is a description of Justice, slow but inevitable.

With two possible interpretations, this seems a risky use of 'to mill' to mean 'to kill' and not 'to fight' or 'to judge after death', both of which may be too close for comfort.

Context is everything. You could describe a First World War infantry charge as 'throwing a million men into the mill' and it would be understood.

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    Jul 18, 2023 at 7:13
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Yes, the extended sense of the verb mill in slang goes as far as killing. It appears that this slang usage originated in Thieves' cant. Green's Dictionary of Slang lists this sense as below and the earliest citation is from 1612:

4. to kill, to murder.

1612 Dekker O per se O L2: They are sworne neuer to disclose their skill in Canting to any Householder for, if they do, the other Maunderers or Roagues Mill them (kill them).

Note: The above finding provides proof that the verb mill was used with the intended sense; but per its usage and citations, it can be considered archaic. However, within the realm of slang and figurative usage; this sense doesn't have to have a dictionary entry, and the context can determine its sense. In slang, there can be semantic extensions of the verb mill; which extends from its literal sense: to grind down, to break into small parts.

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    However I'd suggest it would have to be used cautiously, since "milling" is generally an operation which adds value ("fine-milled flour" and so on) rather than destroy it. Jul 18, 2023 at 8:38
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    In archaic usage, yes. This is not in use in modern English English, nor in any dialect in England. nor (as far as I'm aware) in standard US English nor dialects in the USA, Canada or Australia. The OP should not use it unless they're writing historical fiction in historical dialect, or using it in some poetic sense.
    – Graham
    Jul 18, 2023 at 11:45
  • Slang is flexible; and in the journey of semantic extension, this sense is the final point. The question is "Does the word has this sense?" and the answer is yes. It can be considered archaic or obsolete but we can revive the usage. "Mill" rhymes with "kill" and sounds like an euphemism for "kill" also; and in a game if you say "I was milled" after being killed, people would understand what you mean. Plus, it sounds a bit humorous and the OP wants to add a bit color to the expression.
    – ermanen
    Jul 18, 2023 at 14:34
  • For example, GDoS also has the second slang sense "2. to smash, to break open, to spoil." for the verb mill.
    – ermanen
    Jul 18, 2023 at 15:10
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Milling as per RKirk remains in current usage within British Army training :

Milling is a training activity in the British airborne infantry. For a fixed period, two opponents punch each other in the head as aggressively as possible without evasion.

Wikipedia: Milling (military training exercise)

As such it is violence for the sake of violence, so quite a good analogy.

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The OP's expression in a comment about "killing kilometers" suggested "burning up the miles" to me.

For the game play I suggest

I was burnt

The mainstream dictionaries want to involve fire in their definitions, but Green's Dictionary of Slang has

burnt
4. destroyed, defeated.

which seems to suit the colloquialisms tag.


Also

I was thrashed

Cambridge

to defeat someone very easily in a game or sports competition

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Another altnernative that works in a similar way to "creamed" is "pasted". I've heard that used in the past in such a context.

"Thrashed" also springs to mind.

While your explanation of "milled" makes sense, I do think it'd require such an explanation to avoid confusion.

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