Herbert Stahlke hstahlke at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Tue Apr 15 14:43:05 UTC 2003

In a TV news report I heard not only "seven troops" but also "one troop",
referring to an individual soldier.  I think it was on one of the cable
channels, but I don't remember which one.  It struck me as normal analogical
development involving back formation, but one that's still a ways short of
acceptance.  However, once one newsreader or expert uses such a word, it's
often not long before others pick it up.  I look forward to hearing other
singular uses of "troop" for "soldier".


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Arnold Zwicky
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2003 9:57 PM
Subject: troops

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

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