I live in out-of-the-way Paso Robles, but even I have noticed Gen. David Petraeus says “troopers” instead of “troops.” I first noticed that in 2007 when he was running the “surge” strategy in Iraq. Now he’s back in the news running our war in Afghanistan and still saying “troopers.”
I’m pleased. I’d like to believe he sees his “troopers” as individuals, not faceless members of a throng known as the “troops.” I doubt he’d ever refer to two missing soldiers as “two troops.”
For one thing it would be inaccurate. “Troop” means a group or unit of soldiers or marines. So saying two “troops” would mean two groups, not two soldiers.
There are other examples of “troop” and “troops.” Paso Robles has a group of Boy Scouts called Troop 60. The state police in many states are divided into “troops,” whose members are called state “troopers.”
But still news stories thoughtlessly say things like “A wave of violence killed six U.S. troops.” I easily translate that mentally to “six U.S. troopers,” but news organizations should be thoughtful and accurate.
We need a simple, all-inclusive label that fits our soldiers and Marines. “Troops” won’t do, but I support “troopers.” I concede that “troopers” originally meant cavalry soldiers, but back in World War II, “trooper” was already stretched to include paratroopers.
Apparently Gen. Petraeus has consciously chosen to say “troopers.” That tells me he does what he thinks is correct regardless of what everybody else is doing.
But Gen. Petraeus and I are hopelessly outnumbered. “Troop” will probably eventually be accepted as the label for an individual soldier or Marine. That’s how language works. We learn new words by hearing other people use them, not by looking them up in the dictionary. The majority rules.
Take the word “attendees.” It means the people at an event or place. It’s becoming more popular. To me it smells of pretentiousness.
“Attendees” is also a lazy, all-purpose, unspecific word like “facility.” I guess it’s easier to say “attendees” than to remember words like audience, spectators, witnesses, participants, members, fans, congregation, assembly or crowd.
“Attendees” is also illogical. Consider this: When attendees listen, are they “listenees”? Of course not; they’re listeners. So why don’t people say “attenders”? I guess “attendees” sounds more refined and French.
“Attendees” annoys me, but I’d never call it incorrect because it isn’t. It’s just an ugly fruit on our language tree. Language doesn’t follow rules.
Contact Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.