words of the year

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Nov 22 21:12:06 UTC 2003

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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
>Subject:      Re: words of the year
>>  -----Original Message-----
>>  From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
>>  Of Geoffrey Nunberg
>>  Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2003 2:35 PM
>>  Subject: Re: words of the year
>>  References to putting troops "on the ground" go back at least as far
>>  the early days of air warfare -- when I was looking at this a while
>>  ago, I found a cite from a 1948 article in Military Affairs, and it
>>  would probably be easy to find antedates from the mid-1930's, when
>>  the coordination of air and ground operations was first being
>>  discussed. The shift from that use of "on the ground" to a use to
>>  describe a source close to the field of operations seems pretty
>>  straightforward -- my bet is that it will show up in the military
>>  language of WWII.
>If that were so, I would expect Google Groups to have it before 1992. Their
>archive goes back to 1981 and while the pickings get spotty before 1990,
>such an overused phrase should appear earlier if it had roots half a century
>Was the 1948 citation a literal usage or figurative?

It's literal, though there's an idiomatic or specialized character to
this use of "ground" (i.e., as opposed to air). The OED gives 'ground
attack' from 1917. It gives 'ground troops" from 1941 but the NYT has
this in a 1918 article about Billy Mitchell.

The German army immediately grasped this new weapon [i.e., Russia's
demonstration in 1936 of the mass tactical deployment of parachute
units] and exended its scope, utilizing gliders... as well as
parachutes and landed-transports for placing troops on the ground.

"Past Airborne Employment," by James A. Bassett. Military Affairs,
Vol. 12, No.4. (Winter, 1948)

Geoff Nunberg

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