CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Stomping ground

Some phrases make sense on the surface, such as ‘a blessing in disguise’, ‘go back to the drawing board’ and ‘better late than never’, to name just a few. But there are so many that need a little bit of explanation. In fact, discovering their origins are half the fun and make you greater appreciate the nature of language and the journey it’s taken to its current form.

Stomping ground

‘This was my old stamping ground back at uni.’

The backstreets of the lower market quarter were the stamping grounds of the Barker Gang.

First things first: ‘stomping ground’ has come to us from the British English term ‘stamping ground’. While the latter is still used today, the former is more commonly used colloquially around the world.

A stomping or stamping ground is a place where a certain individual, or group of people, regularly hangs out or spends their time. As an example, in primary school (ages 6-12), you might spend time with your friends at the local library, skate park or playground, waiting for your parents to pick you up. These areas could become your stomping grounds. Likewise, in high school (ages 13-18), you might hang out at the shopping centre, the sports fields or—now this is showing my age—at a local internet cafe, playing multiplayer shooters… One person may have multiple stomping grounds, as each are bound to a different activity.

So where did this phrase come from? This one seems rather straightforward. According to some sources online, the origins of the phrase ‘stamping ground’ dates back to the 1800s and refers to a gathering place for livestock, usually cattle and horses. When looking at a herd milling together at the same area—perhaps around a shared waterhole or a good spot of shade—it’s easy to see how this could then be referred to humans returning to the same ‘haunts’ over and over.

So the next time you visit your old stomping ground, think of cows. Lots and lots of cows.

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