In time, these lessons and "stubs" will be migrated to the Buzzwords site.
Until then, consider them historical.

An Army Marches on Its Stomach


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Why would the first speaker have to "keep his staff fed and housed"?


James sees his student, a boy named Robert, studying in the school library.

James: Hi, Bob. Whatcha doin'?
Robert: I'm going over my history notes. Can I ask you a question?
James: Sure!
Robert: I read that according to Napoleon, "An army marches on its stomach." Do you have any idea what that means?
James: Yeah, it's about logistics.
Robert: Logistics. Like shipping and stuff?
James: Well, that's one aspect of logistics. But it generally has to do with getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time.
Robert: You lost me.
James: Look, we usually think of people marching on their feet, right?
Robert: Yeah…
James: So Napoleon was saying that an army needs to be fed; its stomach is as important as its feet. Getting supplies to the army is the tricky part.
Robert: I guess he found that out when he tried to invade Russia.
James: That's right. You really know your history!
Robert: Thanks for your help.
James: No problem.


Today's proverb, "An army marches on its stomach," comes from the military world. It is widely attributed to the French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. There is some debate, however, about whether he actually said this.

It sounds odd, doesn't it? It sounds more like crawling than marching! But as you saw in the dialogue, there is a certain amount of logic hidden in the saying.

More notes:
  • Whatcha doin'? James says "What are you doing?"--a typical greeting--but he says it very naturally. The usual answer for such a greeting might be "Not much" or "Nothing special"--unless you ARE doing something important, as Robert is. Then you just state it.
  • according to Napoleon: As I mentioned, it's not certain that Napoleon said this. (Frederick the Great, an 18th-century king of Prussia, is another candidate.) Anyway, this is a good expression for introducing the words of another.
  • Like shipping and stuff: "and stuff" is a very informal way to say "et cetera." It's more common in casual speech.
  • You lost me: James's sentence was confusing. Robert is asking James to say it again, more clearly. This is more natural than expressions like "I can't catch you," etc.
  • the tricky part: the difficult part, the part that will cause problems
  • You really know your history! James compliments Robert on his knowledge. You can use any noun in place of "history" here: "You really know your marketing strategies!" etc.


Use the above terms in one of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form.

1. A: that? B: Sorry, __________. Can you say that again, a little slower?
2. __________ my boss, our company's sales are up.
3. Asking a girl to marry you is easy; __________ is getting her to say yes.
4. A: Hi! __________? B: Not much. Just taking a walk.
5. A: Cool! Look! A 1957 Chevy Nomad! B: Wow! __________ vintage cars!


If you can, try to talk about these questions in English with a friend. If not, try writing your answers.

1. Do you know much about logistics? Talk about it if you can.
2. Talk about "getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time." Have you ever had to do that, even in a small way?
3. What do you know about Napoleon? Do you know what happened top him in Russia? And how did his "career" end?


1. You lost me; 2. According to; 3. the tricky part; 4. Whatcha doin'; 5. You really know your

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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