By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

First trooper singular

Linguist John McWhorter, in a commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” March 27:

One cannot refer to a single soldier as a troop. This means that calling 20,000 soldiers “20,000 troops” depersonalizes the soldiers as individuals, and makes a massive number of living, breathing individuals sound like some kind of mass or substance, like water or Jell-O, or some kind of freight.

President Bush, March 29:

We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we’ve got a troop in harm’s way, we expect that troop to be fully funded.

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  1. John

    Linguists may not like the use of the word “troop” to indicate a single member of the military, but in my (albeit brief) enlisted experience, the word was interchangeable with the apellations “soldier” and “marine” and “airman” and “sailor” in direct address.

  2. Don

    Troop-troops-whatever. Congress doesn’t care; they’re on “spring break.”

  3. Anonymous

    as much as i’d like bush to continue to be the reincarnartion of dan quayle, there is circumstantial evidence he may have been talking of troop the collective noun. sorry, dan, this put-down doesn’t meet the reasonable doubt standard.

  4. Peter Porcupine

    Besides – what makes you think the President was referring to a single individual?Or listens to NPR? Especially for speechwriting criticisms.

  5. RandomHookup

    I was in the Army for 7 years and ‘troop’ was a common term to use, especially since it was hard to tell the difference between soldiers, Marines, airmen, etc., when everyone is wearing camo. A generic term works wonders.

  6. Anonymous

    This is not difficult:- one soldier: a trooper- two or more soldiers: troops- three platoons plus headquarters of US armored cavalrymen:a cavalry troop- a group of baboons: a troop- to wander aimlessly: to troop aboutDon’t even ask what one calls a group of cavalry baboons who are wandering aimlessly!!!!!

  7. v

    The word troops has been used to represent soldiers. This posting on a blog done by a Balitmore Sun assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s copy desks recaps:

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