on the ground = 'in the world'

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 19 12:46:25 UTC 2011

Right. "On the ground" = "in society, as distinct from in theory."

I can't even remember the last time I heard a media journalist say "on the
spot" or "on the scene."  It's been "on the ground" (no matter where, except
maybe at sea) for many, many years.


On Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 10:12 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: on the ground = 'in the world'
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 10:06 PM -0500 1/18/11, Laurence Horn wrote:
> >At 8:15 PM -0500 1/18/11, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> >>You're undoubtedly right, but I noticed Thomson's use because within the
> >>past day or so I heard a clearer ex. on CNN, which I can't find on line.
> >>
> >>It seemed to compare what low-income mothers faced "on the ground" as
> >>opposed to something in theory.
> >
> >Isn't this use similar to the military one (I think I've come across
> >it in reports from the front in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere)
> >where "the situation on the ground", in the actual battles taking
> >place, is contrasted with, as you say, something in theory (or in the
> >military planners' war-game scenarios).  This is, however, quite
> >different from "light on the ground" meaning 'sparse'.
> >
> >LH
> oops, sorry--for some reason I only saw Garson's message after I sent
> this one.  Yes, "the facts on the ground" pops up even more in the
> above scenarios than "the situation on the ground".  I had assumed
> that this was used for other conflicts predating the current
> never-ending war in the Gulf, but I don't really know.  As Garson
> observes, it's used elsewhere (in the "abortion wars") to specify
> what's happening in the real world, on the front lines, etc.
> LH
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