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All boots on deck

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These boots are made for grounding:

"True, the turbulent nomination has wounded Hagel ... But he will eventually emerge stronger than ever. He already has authority with soldiers, having himself had his 'boots on the ground.' " In this case, the writer meant that Chuck Hagel, the newly confirmed secretary of defense, is a Vietnam War veteran, and thus has the respect of the troops. He's been in combat; he knows the territory, in stark contrast to people like former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who carefully avoided service himself, but diligently sent others off to die for their country. To be shot out of their boots, perhaps.

Not long after I saw that use of "boots on the ground," I received a letter from Stanley Johnson. He writes: "Monday's Dem-Gaz quoted a candidate for the position of superintendent of the Little Rock School District as having acquired 'hands-on-the-ground' experience ... The phrase is obviously a conflation of 'hands-on' with 'boots on the ground,' and I guess I know what she meant, but it doesn't sound very seemly for a superintendent." No indeed. Consider this contingency:

"The superintendent was injured when a teachers' aide stepped on his hand as he and the chairman of the Board of Education were leaving the faculty lounge after Happy Hour." As Johnson suggests, keeping an ear to the ground — that is, staying informed — would be a better posture for a superintendent.

"After a brief hospital stay after fainting backstage, the 19-year-old pop star's preparation for a final concert Friday in London hit a speed bump. Bieber got into an altercation with insult-hurling paparazzi, lashing out at a photographer with a stream of expletives as he was restrained by minders."

Minders, eh? In America, a person who's paid to give protective care to another would more likely be called a bodyguard. There's more minding in London than here. The verb mind ("pay attention to") is famously and repeatedly heard via recorded message as subway trains pull into the station, leaving a narrow space between car and platform: "Mind the gap."

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