Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Apr 15 02:56:48 UTC 2003

i was startled to hear, on NPR's Sunday Morning Edition yesterday, the
news that "seven troops" had been rescued in iraq.  "troops" is for me
(and, from a quick review of the big reference grammars, rather more
generally) formally plural but uncountable. (nobody can say "only one
troop was captured.")  so how had the writers fallen into this?

now, *i* would have said "seven soldiers", but i see from the New
York Times writeup this morning what the problem was: there were
five soldiers ("Army soldiers", actually) and two pilots.  so
"soldier" would have been understood in its narrow sense, as opposed
to "sailor", "marine", and "pilot" (or perhaps "flier").  the NYT
described them as "prisoners of war", neatly evading the vocabulary

"servicemen" used to work for the purpose, but that was when the
troops in question were in fact male.  i suppose "servicepeople",
clunky though it is, would do.  "members of the armed services" says
it exactly right, but i can't see that expression sweeping the nation.

arnold (zwicky at

More information about the Ads-l mailing list