"on the double"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 5 17:29:09 UTC 2008

My (possibly mistaken) impression, based on books that I've read and
flicks that I've seen, is that the British Army uses "on the
double-quick," whereas the U.S. Army uses "on the double." In both
cases, these are adverb phrases added primarily for emphasis, with no
necessary reference to  actual marching in any form at all: "[Do
something] on the double[-quick]!"

WRT actual marching in the U.S. Army, the field first sergeant shouts,
"Double ti-i-i-ime ... [interruption by much grumbling and bitching
from the troops] At ease! [= "Shut up!"] ... HARCH!" At this point,
the company begins to move at a pace similar to jogging, but *much*
less comfortable. [Old parody of old cartoon: Ex-Gi, watching joggers,
comments, "I say it's double-timing and it sucks!]

As the troops reach the verge of collapse (the members of the cadre in
charge of physical training are in such great shape that they
double-time backward with far greater ease than ordinary GI's
double-time forward, making it possible for them to see when the
troops are being run into the ground], the field-first shouts, "Quick
ti-i-i-ime ... HARCH!"

It's part of military-training psychology: after a couple of miles of
double-timing, quick-timing feels as comfortable and relaxing as
sitting down under a shade tree and taking a smoke.

FWIW, we were told that marching was "scientific walking" and that 120
paces per minute was the optimum walking speed. My impression is that
the cadre-member who told us that made it up on the spot, since no
explanation was offered as to what was scientific about marching done
in a group, forcing people 6' 8" and 5' 4" to learn to move at exactly
the same cadence. Neither double time nor any other marching pace was
ever commented upon.

During so-called "road" marches, the troops were released to march at
whatever pace felt most comfortable to them. As a consequence, people
who collapsed double-timing two miles while merely carrying their own
weight could be forced to road-march twenty miles carrying sixty
pounds of equipment and live to tell (and re-tell) the tale.


On Sun, Aug 3, 2008 at 4:25 PM, Baker, John <JMB at stradley.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "on the double"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Google Books has multiple instances of "on the double-quick" from 1863 and later; this presumably is the origin of "on the double."  The 19th century "double-quick," which is in the OED, apparently was replaced by "double-time," which may be part of the reason that it's only the shortened form that's familiar today.  I rather like "double-quick"; it's too bad the more pedestrian "double-time" prevailed.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Saturday, August 02, 2008 10:34 PM
> Subject: "on the double"
> Astoundingly, not in OED (though the considerably earlier "at the double" is at _double_. 3.i.):
> 1918 James Belton & E. G. Odell _Hunting the Hun_ (N.Y.: D. Appleton) 49: Stretcher bearer, stretcher bearer, on the double.
> Belton and Odell were officers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
> JL
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