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Outside of the scientific sense (cohort study), does the word cohort have positive, negative or neutral connotations? The dictionary defines it as a group of people or single companion and it originated as the name of a division of men in a Roman legion. However, I feel that nowadays it is usually used to describe a group of people who are up to no good.

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  • Looking at COCA, I can't see very many -- if any -- negative connotations. The vast majority are of the cohort study sense or similar, even outside academic publications. It simply means a particular group.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 15, 2015 at 16:16

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As suggested in the following extract, the term is used mainly with a neutral connotation:

  • A cohort is a group of people who are around the same age, like a cohort of college students who have similar experiences and concerns.

  • The word cohort was originally used to describe a military unit in ancient Rome. You can see how this retains traces of the word’s origins: cohorts are bound together by similar circumstances just like a group of soldiers in a military unit. Some language purists insist that the word only describe a group, such as a cohort of accountants, but it can also refer to companions or supporters, such as “Susie and her cohorts.”

(Vocabulary.com)

The OLD suggests a usage with a disapproving (possibly negative) connotation:

  • (specialist) a group of people who share a common feature or aspect of behaviour

    • the 1999 birth cohort (= all those born in 1999)
  • (disapproving) a member of a group of people who support another person

    • Robinson and his cohorts were soon ejected from the hall.
    • The director made his entrance followed by his cohort of technicians and production assistants.

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