The Phrase Freak is all about examining the phrases that we hear on a regular basis through the media, but somehow never question. “On the ground” is one such construction that make me mental.
My theory is this dates back to the first Gulf War, when anchors started asking reporters about the state of affairs “on the ground”. The reason they did this was because so much of that first war — and the journalism around it — was about the air war. Even back then, I’m not sure the phrase made a lot of sense, but I accepted it, because there was really little information about what said air war was doing to people “on the ground”. Now, I regret not having stepped in sooner with a big stick of shame-whammy.
Flash forward twenty years, and still, anchors and reporters use this phrase, but now it is totally disconnected from its original context. Anchors regularly ask about the state of things “on the ground”. Except for the occasional airline hijacking and submarine accident, the vast majority of news stories actually take place on the ground, to ask about the ground specifically is kind of redundant, if not outright silly.
Just once I’d like to hear a reporter say, “well Bill, there are a few ants milling around what appears to be a crumb of bread … no, no strike that, it’s a piece of donut. Next to this frenzied activity, I can see a few dead leaves and Oh My God — there is a crack in the sidewalk! We can’t tell if this crack is growing or the result of some kind of seismic activity, but we’ll check into it for you Bill.”
Then maybe it would stop.
Freak level on this phrase: 8 gobsmacks out of 10.
Alltop is an aerial war aggregator. Sidewalk photo by Meganne Soh. Originally published, January 2006. (Obviously, not very effective at stopping this linguistic excrescence.)