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I read the following sentence and was wondering what does the phrase 'to get in line soldier-style' mean in the context -

A third person familiar with the bank told Reuters that Pandit and O'Neill clashed because the chairman wanted the CEO "to get in line soldier-style."

Does it mean to be obedient and follow orders blindly?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think there are very few Google hits because we've got two idioms butted against each other. Neither is exactly common, but they're still in use.

The first idiom is "get in line," which is often used metaphorically to mean conform to societal rules, as in this passage from Eric Bogosian's Wake Up and Smell the Coffee:

I'm not fighting the system, I'm part of the system. I toe the line. And I do it for a very good reason: I'm a sheep. I am a gutless sheep.

So, when they say, "Get in line," I get in line, you know? It isn't like I want to get in line. I hate getting in line. "I'm a rebel, man! I used to smoke pot!"

.. but in the long run, I have to get in line .. that's the deal. Because if I don't, then maybe nobody will, and if nobody gets in line, then what do you have? Chaos!

The other idiom is "soldier style," which can refer to many things, from fashion to landscaping to a rough style of living, or even to any kind of behavior considered typical of among fighting men:

  • She is never seen without the cumbersome leather purse she wears soldier style on a long strap crossing her breast.1

  • Stand pavers on end (known as soldier style) to create a deep border for paving projects.2

  • Drew and I rose with the sound of the bugle on the following morning. We had promised each other that we would begin our new life in true soldier style, and so we reluctantly hurried to the wash-house, where we shaved in cold water...3

  • Individuals started the march with rations for five days and in typical soldier style lightened their load by eating them in three. Thus hunger and the failure of the supply wagons to keep up, coupled with exposure to rain and wind, weakened them further.4

But in the context of your excerpt, I think it means, as you surmised, dutifully following orders. In other words: act like a soldier. Get in line, get in line quick, and follow your marching orders – no talking back.

F O O T N O T E S
1Dennis McFarland, The Music Room, 2001
2Tom Lemmer, The Complete Guide to Masonry & Stonework, 2006
3James Norman Hall, High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France, 1918
4James R. Arnold, Shiloh 1862: The Death Of Innocence, 1998

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Googling the phrase in quotation marks yields only 4 hits. Two of them are links to the article, and the other two are links to this question. This seems to indicate that this is not a common idiom or phrase, but simply a colorful metaphor that the source used to describe, as you said, "to be obedient and follow orders blindly".

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Yes - I also tried googling. And that's what it seems like, but it's odd as - per my understanding - board of directors role is to oversee CEO's job and make sure the management is acting in best interest of shareholders - but not to 'order' CEO. Not sure why Reuters would make it so 'colorful'. Either my understanding of role of directors or meaning of this phrase/metaphor is incorrect. –  YetAnotherUser Oct 16 '12 at 20:00
    
@YetAnotherUser Since the phrase is in quotes it's presumably the "third person" who used it. And your understanding of the role is correct -- according to the "third person" the clash came about because the chairman wanted to exercise his authority improperly. –  StoneyB Oct 17 '12 at 1:46

Reconsidered:

The quote and source do not make clear who spoke those words, CEO or that third person. Probably it doesn't matter anyway. Given no clear indication of the sentence's belonging in the popular-figure-of-speech repertory, or as to whether or not its speaker, as do many sophisticated people in general, could be simply have been given to ad hoc metaphorical coinages, there is no reason to assume that the "saying" did not originate, in a manner of speaking, right there and then--perhaps the originator having some military background or military writing experience--perhaps not.

Given the context--among execs, who by habit work to preserve jobs (their own jobs) and control, and board members, who by duty are bound to shareholders--the meaning of what (ever it really was that) the chairman said seems quite clear (and, no, its not about mindlessness): The chairman was, most likely, simply asserting in the boards behalf: "We (the board) are the ones who (legally) call the shots here."

While a saying of such nature might be common (assuming the one who said it alluded to something he had heard) it could still be "fresh," so to speak, if occasion had never arisen, until then, for it to be memorialized in print as a noteworthy expression.

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Duly follow orders would not make sense, given the context; and location.

The appearance is as of a Congressional hearing: Senate Majority Leader O'Neal the chairman (banking?, Ways and Means? ...?) committee? or just presiding chair? (It really does not matter.)

CEO Pandit a person summoned.

Since people do not actually "line up" for or inside a Senate or Joint Congressional hearing, the line up phrase must be metaphorical.

The only interpretation that readily suggests itself as coming from a chair is that Pandit was being admonished in regard to Senate or Legislature protocol. Since any instruction of the nature exerpted would invariably relate to protocol and rules of order, I believe that would be sufficent in itself to answer the question.

Possibly the metaphor meant mostly that, those summoned were to show up on date and on time; sit until called; remain until dismissed.

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What is the location? The Capitol? Why would this be a matter of protocol? This apparently stems from a long-running feud that goes back several months, centered around philosophical differences on how the bank should be run. There's some good background information about this relationship here. –  J.R. Oct 18 '12 at 2:41

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