In discussions about land, ground means soil or, more generally, the surface of the Earth. The solid surface, to be more precise: a ship runs aground when it meets a reef, a shoal, or the stubborn shore. Just how solid Earth’s skin might become was suggested by Willa Cather in O Pioneers! when she described the winter landscape of Nebraska: “The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy.” The word may also mean a space designated for a certain purpose, as in tent ground or circus ground. For nineteenth-century Americans, a revival ground and campground were often the same thing: a place for holding religious revivals. That’s the sense of the term in the Civil War song “We’re Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.”

Scott Russell Sanders