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Here’s the context:

The Great Plains have been ground down to almost nothing here, to wind and dirt and trash on the shoulder of the highway, to Walgreens and Arby’s and AutoZone.

Is it like the author thinks the Great Plains are prosperous but the area in question is quite stagnant?

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  • Have you ever seen a "grinding wheel"? Please look at the various definitions of "grind".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 23, 2020 at 11:59
  • I updated my answer to answer the question that you added a few minutes ago ("Is it like the author thinks the Great Plains are prosperous but the area in question is quite stagnant?") Jun 23, 2020 at 12:39

2 Answers 2

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As Merriam-Webster explains, "grind down" is a phrasal verb meaning:

1: to make (something hard) smaller and smoother by gradually rubbing off tiny bits

The old dog's teeth had been ground down by use.

2: to weaken or destroy (someone or something) gradually

Poverty ground her spirit down.

These people have been ground down by years of oppression.

So, the Great Plains have been reduced in size gradually over time, in the first sense. If the writer also intends to talk metaphorically about the Great Plains, as though they were a person or thing that could be weakened or destroyed, then the second meaning also would be applicable.

"Is it like the author thinks the Great Plains are prosperous but the area in question is quite stagnant?" I think it is not so much about prosperity but about the original stature of the Great Plains. These are the "Great Plains", once so great and grand but now reduced gradually over time to wind, dirt and trash at the side of a highway, like an after-thought that nobody notices, where the main attraction are the common stores like Walgreens, which are nothing special.

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    That helps a lot! Thank you so much!
    – ZaneHsu
    Jun 23, 2020 at 12:44
  • No problem, glad it was helpful. Jun 23, 2020 at 15:02
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This is the past tense of the verb to grind (as in grinding grain for flour), used in a metaphorical sense.

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  • Is it like the author thinks the Great Plains should be prosperous but the area in question is quite stagnant?
    – ZaneHsu
    Jun 23, 2020 at 12:19
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    Obviously I haven't read the rest of the passage, but I know the Great Plains of the USA were once a huge wilderness area. The author seems to be saying that this particular part of the plains has been reduced by human development to a shabby roadside settlement with boring chain stores. Jun 23, 2020 at 12:50
  • I think the cited used is more literal than metaphoric, since the terrain really has been eroded by the elements (over millennia and more). Whereas OP here is clearly thinking of the not uncommon metaphoric usages such as references to areas of economic stagnation being "ground down" by adverse sociopolitical factors & such. Jun 23, 2020 at 13:29

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