Grass roots

Thu Jan 27 00:41:12 UTC 2005

>>> Michael Quinion <wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG> 01/26/05 8:47 AM
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.

Just slightly off-topic:

In the Quadrangle, open space at the center of The University of Chicago
(see note, below), generations of students, faculty, and visitors taking
shortcuts across campus had worn deep ruts in the lawns that were
supposed to grace the area between buildings.  Desperate defenses from
the Building and Grounds staff used chains, signs, and public pleas to
keep off the grass. It simply didn't work.

Some marketing genius from the School of Business prevailed on the
powers-that-were in the 1970's to initiate a grass roots campaign. Take
that phrase literally: There were stories in campus publications, more
than one general rally, wise words from the president's office, and
other ways to plug The Grass Roots Campaign. The neatest ploy was a
general giveaway of green buttons bearing the words "Grass Roots !" Once
there had been sufficient noise, the entire area was spaded and reseeded
-- and "Grass Roots !" signs were prominently spotted around campus.

Public disapproval ended the reign of the shortcut abusers. Grass Roots
worked!  (At least it worked that one spring.) The campus lawns took on
a beautifully verdant look everywhere.

It didn't hurt, either, when some genius responded to the vox populi by
paving some of the most notorious ruts in the lawn. If people insist on
following their own view of where campus paths ought to go, it makes
more sense to join them than to fight them.

Promised note: Notice that I capitalized The University's name as The
University of Chicago.  That was once the only accepted form: The
University, as if there were no other. (I understand that latter- day
campus stylebooks have dropped that initial T to mere lowercase status.
O tempora, o mores.)

-- mike salovesh   <m-salovesh-9 at>   PEACE !!!

P.S.: There was one flaw in the Grass Roots movement. Somehow, the seed
bags were contaminated by an occasional kernel of good midwestern maize
seed. (That might even have been a nod to a former Chancellor of the
University -- later demoted to the mere title of President. He was an
internationally famous plant geneticist, most renowned for his work on
the origins and domestication of maize.) As far as I was concerned, the
cornstalks were a pleasant diversion.

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