If a saboteur is one who sabotages, and a spy is one who does espionage, what do you call one who reconnoiters or performs reconnaissance?

Here is some research on the topic. Etymononline produces the following pairs, but not one for reconnaissance:

sabotage (v.) 1912, from sabotage (n). Related: Sabotaged; sabotaging.

saboteur (n.) 1912 (from 1909 as a French word in English), a borrowing of the French agent noun from sabotage (see sabotage (n.)).

espionage (n.) 1793, from French espionnage "spying," from Middle French espionner "to spy," from espion "a spy" (16c.), probably via Old Italian spione from a Germanic source akin to Old High German spehon "spy" (see spy (v.)). For initial e- see e-. Middle English had espiouress "female spy" (early 15c.).

spy (n.) mid-13c., "one who spies on another," from Old French espie "spy, look-out, scout" (Modern French épie), probably from a Germanic source related to spy (v.).

reconnaissance (n.) 1810, from French reconnaissance "act of surveying," literally "recognition," from Old French reconoissance "recognition, acknowledgement" (see recognizance).

  • 7
    Reconnoiterer, duh
    – wedstrom
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 21:22
  • 2
    @wedstrom Lol. Sounds about right :) Commented May 26, 2016 at 23:10
  • @markovchain yes, as explained in my answer.
    – NVZ
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 5:26
  • Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, I'll add recces to the list..
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 17:22

6 Answers 6


A scout.

Scout noun 1 A soldier or other person sent out ahead of a main force so as to gather information about the enemy’s position, strength, or movements: forward scouts reported that the enemy were massing at two points ahead - ODO


Scout is the common word for that. — M-W

1.a. one sent to obtain information; especially : a soldier, ship, or plane sent out in war to reconnoiter

But the exact answer is the obsolete word reconnoiterer (noun)TFD, Dictionary.com

Usage examples provided by @deadrat:

From Vienna in 1848 by H J Coke (1849)

Now and then the sentry fires at the incautious reconnoiterer, till all is hushed!

From Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police by J O Koehler (1999)

The film extolled the virtues of Horst Hesse as a "heroic comrade," a "reconnoiterer for peace" who had insinuated himself into a U.S. intelligence service.

Related words: lookout, lookout man/woman, outrider, advance guard, vanguard, spy; avant-courier


If you wanted to be fancy, you could use reconnaisseur, which would be the correct French. (Wiktionary also shows "reconnoisseur" in a sixteenth-century source.)

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    The choice between <ai> and <oi> is tricky: in French, <reconnaissance> and <reconnaître> replaced <reconnoissance> and <reconnoître> in the 1835 spelling reform. Since English <reconnoiter> and <reconnaissance> are mismatched, I'm not sure how to choose between <reconnoisseur> and <reconnaisseur>. (Maybe go with <reconnoisseur> by analogy with <connoisseur>?)
    – ruakh
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 5:11
  • 1
    @ruakh Thanks for this info. I personally would choose reconnaisseur in most contexts. I think it is more recognizable to English speakers because "reconnaissance" seems to be a more common word these days than "reconnoiter." Plus, "reconnaisseur" is an (I think fairly common?) modern French word with the same meaning, whereas reconnoisseur cannot really be found in modern French dictionaries.
    – SAH
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 7:15
  • I would go with "oi" as that's what other words use, like "connoisseur". Now the "oi" in French sounds very weird/old, what you could expect from old plays.
    – user276648
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 8:55
  • 2
    @SAH “Reconnaisseur” is virtually unused in French (unlike “reconnaissance” for the (usually military) activity). The oi/ai is as ruakh wrote a historical spelling distinction. Commented May 26, 2016 at 12:22
  • @Gilles Your "extremely obscure" seems to be an overstatement, judging by a quick Google search for the term. (I agree "reconnaisseur" seems quite rarely used to refer to people, but it appears to be used in tech a fair bit.)
    – SAH
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 17:55

A scout or reconnoiterer is the word you are looking for. But if you want to use the word for someone who does reconnaissance during flight, you could use air observer which means:

An air observer is a military aircrew member whose duties are predominantly reconnaissance. The term originated in the First World War in the British Royal Flying Corps, and was maintained by its successor, the Royal Air Force.

The term is still used in some contexts now, such as police helicopter units.



There doesn't have to be a word for someone responsible for the execution of the act (for example what is the person who radios called?) In this case English doesn't have such a word.

Reconnaissance is a common word in the military; the person responsible for its execution is typically named using a Noun Adjunct. As an example, look at the naming in http://en.wikipedia.org's reconnaissance page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconnaissance

  • Reconnaissance Asset
  • Reconnaissance Batallion
  • Reconnaissance Company
  • Reconnaissance Detachment
  • Reconnaissance Officer
  • Reconnaissance Platoon
  • Reconnaissance Squad
  • Reconnaissance Team Leader
  • Reconnaissance Unit
  • "person who radios"? Radioman, back then; radio jockey, now.
    – NVZ
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 11:17
  • @NVZ Yeah, I was just making the point that is another word where the person responsible for the execution of the act is named using a noun adjunct. Commented May 27, 2016 at 11:25
  • 1
    Also 'signaller' or colloquially among soliders,'flagger'. Commented May 5, 2017 at 23:58

You can use "recon", as in:

I'm a saboteur

I'm a spy

I'm recon

It's a bit of a quirk of english, and I suspect that this usage is probably not grammatically correct in a technical sense, but it's not unusual for a person to identify themselves as being what they do, albeit sometimes with a qualifier (I'm recon guy* or I'm the recon guy**). You'll particularly see it in military fiction (I don't have the experience to know if it occurs in real-life military).

* see also: buffyism/wheedonspeak

** guy is non-gender-specific

  • Being recon is a formidable job.
    – Kristopher
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 20:14

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