The phrase “stand down” used to refer to a person or group that had taken an aggressive stance and was being instructed to abandon that stance. Soldiers prepared to attack would be ordered to stand down when a conflict was resolved diplomatically. In the movies, a trigger-happy lawman or military man would be told, “Stand down! That’s an order!”
In those days, an office-holder who retired or resigned was said to have stepped down. Thanks to our paid praters, however, those two phrases have been merged, and aged or disgraced politicians are routinely said (or invited) to stand down from office.
I heard this morning on the BBC World Service that Raoul Castro was about to stand down as leader of Cuba, and the Washington Post today reports demands in Japan that Prime Minister Abe stand down. As neither politician is reported to have barricaded himself in his office with a rifle, or otherwise taken up an aggressive stance, I assume that the action in question, in both cases, is stepping down.
Another metaphor bites the dust!