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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]

An urban legend links the origin of the word to the debris remaining in the holds of slave ships after the slaves had been disembarked, but there is no evidence for this. The word is not attested early enough to have been associated with slavery.[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, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ Gary Martin (1997–), “Nitty-gritty”, in The Phrase Finder; Michael Quinion (created November 11, 2000, last updated October 25, 2008), “Nitty-gritty”, in World Wide Words.

Further reading[edit]