Troop, troops, trooper, troupe, trouper
An inquiry comes in from another newspaper about using troop for an individual soldier rather than for a military unit:
We had a headline that referred to the mother of "a troop killed in Iraq." Someone called to complain, saying an individual soldier would be referred to as a "trooper." Do you think "troop" in this instance would indicate an individual, or a group of soldiers?
Several points converge here.
No, you do not want to use troop for an individual soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. For an individual, you would want to specify the branch of the armed services. And you don’t want to use trooper, because it would suggest a member of the state police or some similar outfit.
There are people who object to troops in the sense of “eight troops killed in a bombing,” on the ground that a troop, strictly speaking, is a distinct unit of the military — as a troop of cavalry. But troops for soldiers is a usage of long standing. It is particularly useful when the group includes members of different branches; you do not want, you really do not want, to refer to a Marine as a soldier.
Finally, since the terms are frequently confused, recall that a troupe is a traveling body of performers, and that when you refer to someone as a real trouper, it is in the sense of “the show must go on,” not “be all you can be.”
This marks the 400th post on this blog. If you’re new to it, you might find it of interest to rummage about in the archives. There are individual posts that persons of quality have found amusing.