Grass roots

Michael Quinion wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Wed Jan 26 14:47:31 UTC 2005

A subscriber has asked about the origins of this expression in the
sense of the rank and file of an political body. Back in March, David
Barnhart asked whether anybody knew of it from the 1880s but I can't
find a reply in the archives.

The OED has it from June 1912 in reference to the attempt by Teddy
Roosevelt to become president. I've found a number of examples from
that year, all in reference to his campaign, which might suggest it
was coined by somebody connected to it. There's also one from 1920 on that links the sense to Roosevelt's principles.
"America in So Many Words" dates it to 1902, but that is in the sense
of the fundamentals of a situation.

Before I go public suggesting a direct link to the 1912 Roosevelt
campaign, can anybody provide evidence that suggests it isn't so?

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <wordseditor at>
Web: <>

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