"My children are in the service"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Aug 12 06:52:41 UTC 2001

>When I was growing up, ... people would refer to their children or their
>close relatives as being "in the service" if they were in any branch of
>the armed forces, although the Army was where they usually
>were.  Nowadays, I hear, from all races, "in the military" for the same
>thing.  I wonder when the "substitution" started being made?

An interesting observation. I hear both commonly now and I heard both
commonly 30+ years ago IIRC, but I do think "in the military" has been
supplanting "in the service" to some extent. [Google search shows "my
son/daughter is in the military" 20 times, "my son/daughter is in the
service" 6 times, "my son/daughter is in the Army" 46 times, BTW.]

I think maybe the change is in the environment more than in the language.
It seems to me that a person who is drafted or who enlists for a short
hitch to "fulfill his obligation" is more likely to be referred to as "in
the service", while a career soldier/sailor/airman/etc. is more likely to
be referred to as "in the military" -- although I think either phrase can
be applied to either case. At the time of the Vietnam war (or of WW II)
relatively few of the many US servicemen were contemplating an extended
military career; now, with no draft and no large war, I think a higher
proportion are in the Armed Forces by "free choice", many of them with
long-term military career prospects.

-- Doug Wilson

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