February 26, 2005

Waiting for the forces of linguistic change

Further to my remarks on the way two troops has been coming into currency with the meaning to "two members of the armed services", John Bergmayer has informed me that the US Army appears to have decreed that in all official writings the word soldier must be capitalized (an oddly pointless typographical courtesy — how about improving veterans' health benefits instead as a way of showing them our respect?); and Keith Ivey has pointed out to me that there are a couple of hundred Google hits for people saying things like "If we had 20 000 forces coming in over the next three months" and "the allies can put more than 100,000 forces" (just try searching for "000 forces and you'll see). Again, the pace of change surprises me, and in this case, more so than with troop. The question is whether the change will ultimately lead to a new use of the singular. According to Mark, this has happened with troop: within the Army you really are called a troop once you've been trained to function as one of the troops (I didn't previously know that). But will we ever start referring to a solder — sorry, I mean a Soldier — as a force? One can only wait with interest for linguistic change to make its next move.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 26, 2005 02:08 PM