"My children are in the service"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Aug 11 22:47:35 UTC 2001

>Does anyone know the meaning of the phrase "in the service" as used by
>I have occasionally heard it in the expression "my child is in the
>service" or "my children are in the service".

Maybe I don't understand the question, but for as long as I can remember
"in the service" used without any modifier means "in the Armed Forces", and
I don't know of a difference between African-American and
any-other-American usage here.

"My children are in the service" is analogous to "my children are in
college": it implies a certain age range for the children; it implies that
they are "grown up". Failure to specify which branch of the service is
analogous to failure to specify which college: it seems quite natural to
me. For many of us, "the service" denotes a certain conventional phase of a
man's life (or woman's life nowadays): after high school, natural choices
include "college" and "the service". During a significant part of the late
20th century in the US, there were no other likely choices for a healthy
young man.

-- Doug Wilson

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