Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Tue Apr 15 15:15:42 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?

I would say the editors of the big reference grammars are well behind the
times. "Troops" is extremely common as a countable noun. Sentences like,
"50,000 troops have been sent to the Gulf" can be found throughout the news
media. The only thing different about this particular usage is that it is a
very small number. AHD4 includes this countable sense (1.b). The AP
Stylebook warns against using "soldier" to denote a marine and suggests
"troops" as an alternative, but doesn't say anything about countability.

> 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
> problem.

"Soldier" is often informally used to refer to a military person of any
service, but this can become confusing with the US military jargon sense
which limits its use to Army personnel. In this case, however, "seven
soldiers" is proper in all contexts as the two pilots were Army helicopter

The Air Force counterpart to soldier, sailor, or marine is "airman." All
four services have pilots, although the Navy calls them "aviators" to avoid
confusion with the guys who drive ships in and out of ports.

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