TROOP: a collective noun indicating a band of soldiers, scouts, or other gatherings of people

When I was a kid I belonged to a Boy Scout troop.   It was a sizable gathering of boys who were divided into smaller units called patrols.  An individual who belonged to a troop was called a scout.

State Police who are assigned to a specific segment of a state for service are called a troop (or barracks.)  There may be a few as three officers assigned to a troop (in a very rural area) or there could be dozens. Sometimes the entire department is called a troop.  An individual member of that group of officers is called a State Trooper.

Soldiers in the United States Army who are assigned to a specific location are members of the military troops in (whatever country they are serving.)  Individual members of the military troops in Germany, for instance, are called soldiers .

In recent months (maybe years) I have noticed that the term troop has begun to be applied to an individual soldier, however.   News broadcasts indicate that “six troops who were  caught in an ambush,” meaning six soldiers were shot upon.”  Or, in other broadcasts, it is indicated that “there are 85,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.”

A report in the LA Times   indicated that “… So far this year, 262 NATO troops have been killed, compared with 323 killed during the first six months of 2010, according to icasualties.org, which tracks such deaths….” (my emphasis)

I don’t get it.   I would imagine that some people might read that kind of note and believe that 262 groups of NATO soldiers were attacked and killed.   That’s a lot of people.   What the article really meant was that 262 soldiers were killed so far this year, which is also a lot of people…262 too many.

I’m not sure where this re-assignment of the meaning of the word troop has come from.   I searched every dictionary I could find and could discover no reference the the use of the word as a singular.   In all cases it was defined as a collective noun.

Bryan Garner, in his book, Garner’s Modern American Usage, raises the same point, indicating that the use of the word troop as a singular noun raises ambiguities.

“While some object to the use of troops (always plural) to refer to individuals, the usage is hardly new….Today’s it’s standard, despite the inherent ambiguity presented by the collective sense of troop.” (p. 823)

He cites a New York Times article from 1853 in which the term was used to describe individuals.

If there were no other word to describe an individual within a troop I could understand the need to draw down the word for usage.  But what’s wrong with saying that soldiers are deployed, attacked, injured, or killed?   I fail to see the need for the embrace of a term which only causes confusion.

But, then again, this is only The Penultimate Word, not the Ultimate Word. I’ve never claimed to be the final word on such things.

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Photo Credit: HS News

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