Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: troop; troupe.

troop; troupe. Both “troop” and “troupe” have their origins in the medieval French term “troupeau,” meaning “crowd” or “herd.” “Troop” = an assembled unit of soldiers {a troop of parachutists}. The plural form “troops” signifies soldiers {the troops were deployed along the crest of the ridge} and is usually modified by an adjective to indicate some special training or assignment {ski troops} {airborne troops} {desert troops}. An adjective may also designate the soldiers’ command level or department {divisional troops} {corps troops} {army troops} {Allied troops}. In this sense, “troops” refers to individual soldiers {three troops were injured in the raid}, but only when the reference is plural. That is, a single soldier, sailor, or pilot would never be termed a “troop.” While some object to the use of “troops” (always plural) to refer to individuals, the usage is hardly new — e.g.: “A Vera Cruz letter-writer says that in the course of the insurrection in that city, three of the Government troops were killed and five wounded.” “Mexican News — Further Details,” N.Y. Times, 17 June 1853, at 1. Today it’s standard, despite the inherent ambiguity presented by the collective sense of “troop.” “Troupe” = a company of actors, acrobats, or other performers {a troupe of actors} {a troupe of circus performers}. Some writers misuse “troop” for “troupe” — e.g.: o “The 15-member troop [read ‘troupe’] that puts on the circus hasn’t missed a show since the incident on Wednesday.” Robert Farley, “The Show Must Go On,” Patriot & Evening News (Harrisburg), 12 May 1997, at A1. o “A writer, director and military scholar, Milius assembled a worthy troop [read ‘troupe’] of tough-guy actors for his brawny ‘Rough Riders’ miniseries.” Lon Grahnke, “Charging Forth Into History,” Chicago Sun-Times, 18 July 1997, at 37. Language-Change Index — “troop” misused for “troupe”: Stage 1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Americans do indeed like the flat, shallow, pasty product which so very much of our literature is. It is their native element, and they like it, as they like soft drinks and factory-made bread. Intensity, distinction, fire and what I call sincerity, these they do not like and will not have, unless they come with a foreign cachet.” Van Wyck Brooks, Opinions of Oliver Allston 285 (1941)).
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