“Run to ground”

The fox-hunting-derived expression go to ground, covered here not long ago, came to mind this morning when I read something President Obama said in an interview with Fox News yesterday:

And, you know, we’ve seen some indications from the Russians as well as the Syrians today, uh, that they may be willing to look at the prospect of getting those weapons under control, perhaps even, uh, international control, and getting them out of there, where they could be vulnerable to use by anybody. And that’s something that we’re going to run to ground over the next couple of days.

(By the way, I assume the Fox intern who transcribed the interview got extra brownie points for ever “uh” he or she could stick in.)According to the OED, “run to ground” is a variant of “go to ground,” both meaning (literally) to burrow into a hole in the earth, or, figuratively, to withdraw from public view or lie low. Something or someone can also be run to the ground, meaning worn out through overuse. Obama seems to have meant something different, more like “explore in every possible way.”

As I noted last week in a post on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog Lingua Franca, one of the distressing aspects the current debate over intervention in Syria is the way it’s led metaphors to run amok, including “red line,” “boots on the ground,” and “shot across the bow.” Now we seem to have come to the stage where metaphors are given new meaning, just because they, uh, sound good.

12 thoughts on ““Run to ground”

  1. One of the marks of a polished speaker, of which Mr Obama is reputed to be one, is the lack of utterances such as “uh.” I listen to supposedly polished speakers for a living and the best of them may be saying something stupid but they don’t say “uh” or any other little blurt.

    1. In my experience, President Obama says “uh” quite often in interviews, but I’ve never heard him utter it in speeches.

  2. My understanding of “run to ground” in popular usage is a broader one that seems to accord with President Obama’s. (I’m a Brit with an American father) The fox goes or runs to ground because it has been chased, cornered and forced to take refuge. You could say that it has been pinned down. That is what Obama wants to do, I think. He wants to pin down the proposal that Syria give up its chemical weapons so that it can be examined and interrogated, and a determination made as to exactly what it amounts to.

    Incidentally Obama’s tendency to pause when speaking, which might include the use of an ”uh”, seems to indicate that he is taking care in his choice of words in a scholarly way, which I think is preferable to the slick speech of many politicians.

    1. I agree, though the quotation is not particularly clear as to what will be “run to ground”. The President is suggesting that they look at the prospect of getting the weapons under control. Presumably, following consideration of options, a proposal or plan will indeed pinned down.

  3. OTSOTP the expression for over-using something is “run into the ground” and doesn’t, I think, have the same hunting etymology.

  4. I come from agricultural Nebraska, and I can accept that “run to ground” may mean finishing a project by getting the seed in the ground or earth

  5. American here – Leaving this reply about 4 years after the post… came across this on random ‘net searches… the way we use it over here, “go to ground” is from the perspective of the hunted, meaning to lay low and take cover. “Run to ground” on the other hand is from the perspective of the hunter; that is what you are pursuing will end up cornered… people use it in military or business dealings to mean to pursue action on something which may be ambiguous until the correct course of action to achieve completion/victory becomes clear. If there is an open inquiry or activity, you “run it to ground” when you successfully “pin it down” resulting ultimately in completion of the task at hand.

  6. Pingback: “The Queue”

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