What is the difference in meaning between rank and ranking, as in "an officer with high rankings" and "a high-rank officer"?
I know perhaps there might be a difference in usage, but my question is about any difference in the meaning.
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The proper way to state that an officer possesses a high rank is to say "An officer of high rank" -- notice that the preposition is "of", not "with".
The problem here isn't so much "ranking", as it is the choice of preposition.
One doesn't usually say "An officer with high rank," because the "rank" is considered to be a defining quality of the officer. Thus, one says "an officer of high rank"; similarly, one could say "an officer of high ranking", although this would be unclear if he was of a high ranking relative to other officers of his own formal rank, or an officer of high formal rank.
"An officer with high rankings," on the other hand, would suggest that this is an officer (i.e. -- a member of the military who possesses a higher rank than most others) who also, in addition to being an officer, has "high rankings". Now, "ranking" is a gerund, and implicitly suggests motion or activity, so the phrase carries overtones that this officer could move higher or lower, so that "with high rankings" seems to suggest that this could just as easily be an officer "with low rankings".
One could easily say of an athlete, or student, that they are a "student of high ranking" -- which would imply this person is among the elite in their sport, or a leader by virtue of their grades -- or you could even say "of high rankings", which would suggest that they have been ranked by several formal bodies, and have shown excellence.
Similarly, "a high-rank officer" could just as easily be "a high-ranking officer".
Remember, though, that "rank" just means "row"; when soldiers form rows, they're said to fall into rank, with the Sergeant and other officers distinguished by the place they hold relative to the formation -- that is, by their "rank", by the row in which they stand.
"Ranking", however, is fundamentally the act of placing people into those rows, or identifying to which rows or levels they should be identified with.
So again, we get back to the basic idea of movement ("ranking"), versus formal, static status ("rank", or "row").
Using definitions from the OALD: "ranking" means:
Rank is similar, but has more specific applications. For example:
In a sense, the words are similar--they both provide a way to compare people or things.
However, at least in my understanding the meanings are mostly similar but not the same. That is, a ranking will have definite levels of attainment. That is, you can be 1st, 2nd, 306th. A rank, however, can be compared to another rank, but there are not definite "places" one can hold.
I don't think "an officer with high rankings" would be an appropriate use of ranking, unless the context was that he was constantly a winner in some sort of competition.
As reported by the NOAD, two of the meaning of ranking are:
As reported from the OED, the second meaning is used in American English.
In American English is fine to write "high-ranking army officers," or "two ranking PLO figures."