Grounded and Ten Other Idioms with Ground

By Maeve Maddox

When I was still young enough to be under parental supervision, if I did something ill-considered, I was not “grounded”; I “lost privileges.” The use of grounded to mean “confined to home outside school hours” had not yet penetrated to our neck of the woods.

I was familiar with grounded in connection with electricity and flying:

grounded adjective: electrically connected with the ground, either directly or through another conductor.

grounded adjective: of an airplane or pilot, unable, or not allowed to fly. For example, a pilot might be grounded because of illness. A plane might be grounded by reason of bad weather.

In the 1940s, the word grounded acquired the general sense of suspended or disqualified. For example, a truck driver whose license had been revoked was said to be “grounded,” as was a jockey who had been suspended from riding. It was not a leap to apply the use of grounded to a teenager whose driving privileges had been revoked. Nowadays, even young children are said to be grounded when they have privileges denied as the result of misbehavior unconnected with using a vehicle.

The noun ground is from a Germanic source meaning earth. Literally and figuratively, ground represents the basis or bottom of something. A ship in shallow water may strike ground.

The plural, grounds, denotes the premise or reason on which something rests. For example, “grounds for divorce, “objections on religious grounds.”

Ground occurs in numerous idioms. Here are just ten.

ground rules: the basic rules or principles. For example, “Establishing the classroom ground rules on the first day can provide year-long benefits for your challenging students.” 

groundswell: a long, deep rolling of the sea caused by a disturbance, possibly originating at the bottom. Figuratively, a ground swell is strong public opinion that seems to be rising from somewhere and becoming stronger. For example, “Whether New York businessman Donald Trump is serious about running for president or just serious about getting publicity, his groundswell of support in recent weeks is hard to ignore.”

ground zero: This expression stems from nuclear testing. “Ground zero” was the point on the earth’s surface either at or immediately above or below the center of a nuclear explosion. Now it can mean the center of any cataclysmic blast, such as the site of the World Trade Center that was destroyed in 2001. The expression is also used figuratively, as in this reference: “The Interview — the Hollywood movie that became ground zero in the extortionate cyber attack that U.S. authorities are now blaming on North Korea.” 

To break new ground: to do something that has never been done before, like a settler digging a foundation for a home in the wilderness. “Anomalisa filmmakers break new ground with stop-motion drama.”

To cut the ground from under someone’s feet: in a debate, to disprove all possible arguments before they can be made by one’s adversary; to leave someone at a loss as to what to do. “Depression cuts the ground from under one’s feet!” 

To get in on the ground floor: to be involved at the beginning of an enterprise, especially in anticipation of profiting greatly. “If you are hoping to get in on the ground floor of Maryland’s medical cannabis program, you should not underestimate the importance of this very short comment period.” 

To put one’s ear to the ground: be on the alert for possible developments on a topic of interest. “It is not a secret among those who keep their ears to the ground in matters political in Michigan that Commissioner Mershon, of the state tax commission, intends to resign as soon as the new administration takes office.”

To go to ground: to make oneself inaccessible for a time, like an animal holing up in its lair. For example, “Similarly, a proportion of fugitives had gone to ground because they knew some of their Francoist neighbours were working in tandem with the authorities.” 

To get off the ground: to begin a project; begin to show success. This newspaper headline plays on both the literal and figurative meanings of “to get off the ground”: “In Chicago, rooftop farming is getting off the ground.”

To hold one’s ground: to maintain one’s position in the face of opposition or attack. “A workplace bully may try to verbally pound you into submission. If he insists on getting his way, hold your ground.”

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1 Response to “Grounded and Ten Other Idioms with Ground”

  • Mister Furkles

    Don’t forget Coffee Grounds.

    So, one grinds coffee beans but the result is not coffee grinds or even coffee grindings. Of course, the past participle of grind is ground. Why not the present participle with an s?

    What is the most common way of forming a noun for the product of an activity? If we trim something the product is trimmings. The present participle plus an s. If an artist paints something the product is a painting not a paintings and not a painteds. Perhaps the s is added to the participle only when more than one object is result. But how often is the past participle used rather than the present participle?

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