"two hundred"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 6 06:09:01 UTC 2013

On Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 8:42 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> There's more than a little context missing, but if Wilson is
> referring to the size of a company in the Army, 200 was the nominal
> number for the colonial militias.

I was just saying that, when I was in the Army, virtually from the first
day of basic training to the day that I was released from active duty, I
heard random barracks-mates speak of having seen a lowly corporal in charge
of, *specifically*, "_200 head_ of" EM. Not "100 head," not "500 head, not
"a bunch," not "a whole lot of," but exactly

"_200 head_"

which is precisely the number named in the century-old quote. Therefore,
there may be some tradition WRT to the phrase, "200 head," older than the
Civil War cite. O personally have never seen a corporal in charge of any
noticeably-large number of "warm bodies,"  "warm bodies" being the usual
term: "a corporal in command of [some number of] warm bodies."

I assumed, therefore, that "I once saw a corporal in charge of 200 head of
EM!" was merely a traditional, jocular saying that had no basis in reality.
It wasn't that a corporal might, under conditions of standard temperature
and pressure, in fact, command a company, but that a corporal could, in
theory, command any random number at all of recruits, buck privates, PFC's,
and SP-4's, just as a sergeant-major might, simply because a corporal, too,
was an NCO, though one of the lowest rank. The number might well be 5,000
warm bodies.

But I never heard the expression except in the form, "I once saw a corporal
in charge of *200 head of* EM!"

So, precisely "_200 head of_," from the time of the Civil War, when I had
no reason to consider it to be any more ancient than around 1955, caught my
attention. But, if it's a phrase with a long tradition, was there a rime
when there was, in fact, a military unit consisting of precisely "200 head
of" not-quite-human individuals? A militia company of 200 temporary-duty

No regular soldier has much respect - in the trivial sense of UC Davis not
having much respect for Cal State-Sacramento - for the non-professional.
So, it might very well have originated as "200 head of" militia, then "200
head of" nigger, then "200 head of" not-quite-human EM.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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