Saturday, September 18, 2010

Usage: Trooping along

Over at World Wide Words, a thread has developed about the use of "troop" and "troops" as the generic term for any kind of service member. Not surprisingly, it began with someone objecting to it.

But as Michael Quinion notes, the use is long-established.

So the question turns to the singular "troop." In his e-mail edition this week (it won't be on the website for several days; you really should have a free e-mail subscription), Quinion quotes one gentleman noting that inside the military, at least, troop has long been used across services as a generic term (the military needs something, as fliers and sailors, for instance, tend to bristle at being called soldiers). Whether we want to adopt that in the media remains open for debate - while "troops" sounds fairly natural, "troop," I suspect, still sounds tinny to more people than not.

Another correspondent, one Katharine Holden who says she does editing for the Defense Department, says she is now under orders to use the term "warfighter." Supposedly it has superseded "servicemember."

That's one I think we can safely avoid for now.

(A BBC producer commented that "troop/troops" seems to be an Americanism that is just now crossing the pond, but that at the BBC "we ae trying to beat it back." The BBC uses "service personnel" or "members of the armed forces." Of course, that is the BBC after all.)

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