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Of uncertain origin; said to have been first used by black jazz musicians from the United States, the word is perhaps a reduplication of gritty (resembling grit) (ultimately from Proto-Germanic *greutą (grit), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰrewd-) with alteration of the first syllable.[1]

It has been suggested that the word originally referred to the debris remaining in the holds of slave ships after the slaves had been disembarked, but there is no evidence of such use before the 20th century when slavery was prevalent.[2]



nitty-gritty (uncountable)

  1. (originally US, colloquial, also attributively) The core or essence of something; the gist.
    Synonyms: brass tacks, nuts and bolts; see also Thesaurus:gist
    He gave a short summary without getting into the nitty-gritty of the problem.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ nitty-gritty, n. and adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2003; “nitty-gritty, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  2. ^ Gary Martin (1997–), “Nitty-gritty”, in The Phrase Finder; Michael Quinion (created 11 November 2000, last updated 25 October 2008), “Nitty-gritty”, in World Wide Words.

Further reading[edit]