boots on the ground

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US 1980. Attributed to United States General Volney F. Warner, as quoted in the Christian Science Monitor (April 11, 1980) in reference to the Iranian Hostage Crisis:[1]


boots on the ground pl (plural only)

  1. Used other than figuratively or idiomatically: see boots,‎ on,‎ ground.
    • 2015, Christian Clason, Glastica:
      He did not make much of an entrance, he just made his way over to the edge of the lake and plopped his boots on the ground.
    • 1980 April 11, John K. Cooley, “US rapid strike force: How to get there first with the most”, in Christian Science Monitor[2]:
      US options grow more difficults[sic] as the chance of a Soviet response increases. However, many American strategists now argue that even light, token US land forces -- "getting US combat boots on the ground," as General Warner puts it -- would signal to an enemy that the US is physically guarding the area and can only be dislodged at the risk of war.
  2. (military, metonymically) The ground forces actually fighting in a war or conflict, rather than troops not engaged or other military action such as air strikes.
    The Pentagon may say we have enough, but that's not what I'm hearing from the boots on the ground.
    1. The military policy of using ground forces.
      • 2012, Georgia McDade, Outside the Cave II, page 30:
        So often boots on the ground is the American Way.
      • 2015, Helene Dieck, The Influence of Public Opinion on Post-Cold War U.S. Military Interventions:
        At the same time, when options are considered, political parties and the media are interested in knowing whether boots on the ground is an option put on the table.
  3. (by extension) Personnel operating in an area of interest.
    • 2009, Elizabeth H. Dow, Electronic Records in the Manuscript Repository, page ix:
      Eyes on the page matter, but nothing goes forward without boots on the ground. In my case, students wore the boots that mattered most. Jennifer Greer, a former student who worked for a records management consulting service, agreed to help me with the research and writing.
    • 2011, Norrie MacQueen, Humanitarian Intervention and the United Nations, page 133:
      And while the number of international boots on the ground might have appeared to be large, spread across the vast and difficult territory of Darfur, those 20,000 troops and police looked much less adequate.
    • 2013, J. D. Hayworth, Joe Eule, Whatever It Takes: Illegal Immigration, Border Security, ..., page 176:
      We need boots on the ground to make the border a real barrier. Ten thousand new Border Patrol agents have been authorized by Congress.

Usage notes[edit]

Occasionally considered dehumanising language by some.


  • (ground forces): BOG (military)
  • (military policy): landpower

Related terms[edit]


  1. ^ Safire, William (November 7, 2008), “On Language - Let's Do This”, in New York Times[1]