What led to this new usage? Are there any clues as to its origin (i.e., is there a particular journalist or political figure who introduced it)? Is it on the upswing as I suspect (are there any reputable dictionaries which attest it)?


For most of my life, I understood troop to mean a body of soldiers, as attested by Etymonline.com:

troop (n.)
1540s, “body of soldiers,” from Middle French troupe, from Old French trope “band of people, company, troop” (13c.), probably from Frankish *throp “assembly, gathering of people” (cf. Old English ðorp, Old Norse thorp “village,” see thorp). OED derives the French word from Latin troppus “flock,” which is of unknown origin but may be from the Germanic source.¹

But in the past twenty or years or so I have noticed troop used, particularly in journalism, to mean an individual (a “trooper”). This usage seems to be on the upswing. Here are two typical examples from last year:

CBS News
Taliban insurgents killed 10 Afghan troops in an ambush in western Herat province, police and government officials said Tuesday, as one U.S. troop was killed in an attack on the other side of the country.²

The Huffington Post
Among the combat wounded from all the military services are 1,572 patients with major limb amputations, including 486 wounded troops with multiple amputations. These numbers do not include those who suffered the loss of fingers or toes.³ [emphasis added]

I have not yet seen the true singular form meaning an individual attested by any dictionaries, but it is definitely in use as shown above.

  • 2
    This is from kids not listening to enough Iron Maiden.
    – Kaz
    Feb 1, 2013 at 7:22
  • @Kaz ...or Abba.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 1, 2013 at 7:31
  • Conjecture: "15 of the troops were killed" became "15 troops were killed". Feb 1, 2013 at 8:18
  • The word troop is not just a body of soldiers, generally. It refers to particular forms of military unit in particular military branches, usually equivalent to a platoon. Today, a troop is defined differently in different armed forces. This article explains it in detail en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troop
    – Tristan
    Feb 1, 2013 at 17:13
  • @Tristan Yes, I understand that the particular body of soldiers it refers to can differ from force to force. But I think it will just confuse the question if I add that amount of detail.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 1, 2013 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


OED has a citation:

troop, n.
2 pl.
a. Armed forces collectively. Also fig.
1598 R. Barret Theorike & Pract. Mod. Warres v.136 : Fraunce, and Flanders, too full of his pencionary troops.

So its use as a plural is long attested. However there is also

Draft Additions 1993
Chiefly in sing. [Irreg. < the collect. plural: in some cases perhaps abbrev. of Trooper n.,] A member of a troop of soldiers (or other servicemen); a soldier, a trooper. colloq. (chiefly Mil.)

and that is attested in quotation marks in 1832, and without in 1947.

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