Posted by: Jack Henry | May 30, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Post-Memorial Day Military Terms

Here’s a list of military terms that we have adopted into civilian life, from Daily Writing Tips. Photos from Pearl Harbor and Oahu trip to be included in later posts!

captain: ultimately from Latin caput (“head”), originally referring to the leader of a war party and later to a military officer in command of a set unit or a ship; later, applied in general to a leader or head of a group or team.

cavalry: from Italian cavaliere (“horseman”), a body of soldiers mounted on horses (and later those assigned to mechanized units); by extension, from the cliché in movie westerns of a US cavalry unit coming to the rescue of the protagonists, used in references to one or more people who bring aid to others.

lieutenant: from Old French lieu tenant (“in place of”), originally, an officer who was deputy to a captain but later also a specific military rank; in civilian usage, a right-hand man or woman or a subordinate.

muster: from Latin monstrare (“to show”)—interestingly, akin to monster—referring to an assembly of military personnel or serving as a verb synonymous with assemble, but also pertains to any assembly, collection, or inventory, or to a sample or specimen.

picket: from French piquer (“pierce”), a group of soldiers assigned to guard a camp, or the action of doing so; in civilian usage, a distinct meaning of “protesting during a demonstration or strike” or a reference to a sharp stake, such as one that is part of a picket fence.

rank-and-file: from Old English ranc (“strong”) and Latin filum (“cord” or “thread), the arrangement of military personnel in rows and columns; by extension, a reference to ordinary employees or members as opposed to those in leadership roles.

reserve: from Latin reservare (“keep back”), one or more units of soldiers kept more or less in readiness in case they are needed as reinforcements; in general usage, anything kept in stock or kept apart from a general issue or supply.

scout: from Latin auscultare (“heed,” “listen”), a person, sometimes a local civilian—or a group called a scouting party—sent to explore, observe, or search to obtain information about the enemy; in entertainment or sports, someone who observes prospective performers or recruits.

sergeant: from Latin serviens (“servant”), originally referred to a servant but later applied to an experienced common soldier who supervised others under command of a nobleman or knight; the term now denotes an experienced soldier or police officer holding the rank of sergeant or (in the military) a variation of the rank such as staff sergeant.

task force: from taxare (“tax”), a unit formed temporarily to achieve a specific objective; the sense in civilian usage is the same.

troops: from Old French trope (“band,” “company”), also the source of troupe, collectively refers to soldiers (in singular form the name of a specific military unit, not a designation for a single soldier); in general usage, an informal reference to a company’s employees or an organization’s members (as in “Round up the troops for a meeting”).

wingman: originally a term for a pilot who supports the leader of a flying formation, now also slang for someone who backs up a person who seeks to approach potential romantic…partners.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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