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Lt Dan Taylor says to Bubba and Forrest Gump:

Dan: There is one item of GI gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks. Cushion sole, OD green. Try and keep your feet dry.

What does "one item" refer to? Is it socks or Cushion sole?

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    It's both / all three. The "one item" that keeps a rookie soldier alive is having cushion-soled Olive-Drab green socks. Preferably also dry. Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 14:49

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The "one item" is socks. Specifically, it is the type of socks that has a cushioned sole and is "OD green." (Logically they could be any color, but the type of sock specified by Lt Dan is OD green.)

"Cushion sole" is a descriptor of the socks, and "OD green" is a descriptor of the socks as well.

The military often uses non-standard English to officially describe things. For example, instead of "cushion-soled OD-green socks" the socks are listed as the main thing first, and then descriptors:

  • Socks, cushion sole, OD green
  • Rifle, Caliber 5.56mm, M16

This allows them to sort things according to generalities first, and then down from there. For example, these could all be stored in the "socks" area:

  • Socks, cushion sole, OD green
  • Socks, cushion sole, red
  • Socks, cushion sole, desert camouflage
  • Socks, normal sole, OD green
  • Etc

This is not how normal people would speak in normal conversation.

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  • It's true that syntactically speaking we could say that "socks" is the "one item" that'll keep the grunt alive. But only if they're the right kind of socks as specified - thin "ankle socks", for example, wouldn't be any use. Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 14:55
  • @Fumble: Very true, edited.
    – randomhead
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:03
  • Your newly-added word specifically is crucial here, insofar as it definitely has to be the right kind of socks. But as you say, the actual colour of the socks is unlikely to be relevant (how many soldiers ever lost their lives because the enemy could see their feet in non-regulation camouflaged socks?). On the other hand, probably the most important "life-saving" attribute of the socks is that they should be dry (so the grunt doesn't die of "trench rot" leading to gangrened feet / inability to run from danger) - which is only indirectly specified by the final sentence. Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 15:14
  • It's true that in military catalogs, items are normally listed with most generic description first, then adjectives added after, so that if you sort them alphabetically related items are together. But military people, at least those I've worked with, don't normally SAY it that way in normal conversation. It's not clear to me from this brief quote whether the speaker is describing the socks as they would be listed in a catalog for rhetorical effect -- this is the item, just as you would find the name in the catalog. Or if he's speaking more normally, adding detail. ...
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 21:17
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    ... Like I could imagine an "ordinary person" saying, "You need a better car. A sedan. Four doors. Big trunk."
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 21:18

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