21 September 2010

Is it correct to say that " 9 NATO troops died" ??

I'm not questioning the incident, which was widely covered in the blogosphere and mainstream news services today.  My question focuses on the wording of the title.  For the discussion, I'll defer to Michael Quinion at World Wide Words:
Q: Am I right in thinking that “three troops were wounded” not only sounds daft but is incorrect when what is meant is “three soldiers”? “Three troopers”, yes, if they were part of a regiment that is or was mounted.

A: The traditional position that you are likely to find in reference books is that troop is a collective term for a group of people of unspecified number (it’s from medieval Latin troppus, a flock, and is the same word as troupe for a theatrical group). You can refer to more than one troop in the sense of a set of such collections (“the jamboree was attended by several dozen scout troops”) and use troops as a generalised collective term for the forces...

The usage of troops that you refer to is actually not that new. For more than two centuries writers have used it for a countable number of individuals, provided the number is large and not closely specified...

Despite this long history, many people continue to be unhappy about it. The linguist John McWhorter objected to it on National Public Radio in March 2007: “Calling 20,000 soldiers ‘20,000 troops’ depersonalizes the soldiers as individuals...

I’m told that singular troop for an individual has been recorded in US military slang from World War Two. People who were in the services during the 1950s and 1960s confirm it was then common in the US Army (“Yo troop! Take ten troops and police up that latrine!”)...

Troop has developed into a singular and small plural count noun for several reasons. There are now many more women in the various US armed forces and this presents gender-related difficulties in finding suitable terms for individuals (serviceman does not work any longer). More significantly, it’s been difficult to find an inclusive term for a single member of the combined services — soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and so on... Combatant is almost always pejorative (“enemy combatant”). Not least, troop is usefully short for fitting into headlines...


  1. I thought it was related to AP style, which dictates that headlines be in the present tense, as in, "Jury convicts rapist," even though it was yesterday. So the discussion of plurality is actually beside the point.
    Example here

  2. The noun "Troop" is plural.

    The singular is "Trooper"

    The term "Troops" refers to a mutiplicity of troops of troopers.

  3. I remember seeing a clip from a Jerry Lewis movie where he was in the army. I don't remember it exactly, but I recall someone saying that something was not for him because it was "for the troops". His reply was, "but I'm a troop".

    My guess is that the singular troop was not correct and used for humorous effect. Not being French (i.e. finding Jerry Lewis funny) I cannot say that for sure.


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