Grammar Moses: 'Troops' is the word of the day

  • U.S. Marines helped with evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Don't call them "soldiers."

    U.S. Marines helped with evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Don't call them "soldiers." Marine Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Central Command

Updated 9/6/2021 6:26 PM

I heard from two readers in the past week regarding the word "troops."

That kind of coincidence simply requires some navel-gazing.


"As I read the Aug. 17 Daily Herald headline stating '13 U.S. troops killed amid evacuations,'" wrote Terry Valentino. "I am wondering how it means 13 soldiers? A terrible story, but I thought perhaps it would be better saying '13 U.S. soldiers killed ...' To me, the word or term 'soldier' makes it more human and even a bit sadder. Maybe that is why using the word 'troops' was used by editors -- to makes it less tragic."

Au contraire, Terry. I'm glad you wrote in with this question, because we in no way tried to whitewash this horrible story.

"Troops" or the much longer "servicemen and women" (we didn't know whether any women killed at the time we published our first story) is a better generic term than "soldiers."

As it turns out, all but one were Marines, and you don't want to call a Marine a "soldier" -- or that Marine will give you the stink eye. Just ask a couple of my brothers-in-law.

Soldiers are in the Army.

Marines are in the Marine Corps. Airmen are in the Air Force. Sailors are in the Navy.

Coast Guardsmen are in the Coast Guard.

I think the jury is still out on what to call members of Space Force.

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Troops II

Reader Bill Thomas wrote in reference to last Sunday's column about whether it is appropriate to address one's work group as "guys."

"I would offer the word 'troops' as an alternative," he wrote. "It is non-gender specific. Should someone take offense due to a military usage, I would answer that your employees are all 'troops' engaged in fighting for the truth in the news."

I have used "troops" in salutations before. I've also used "everybody," "y'all" and "crew."

Former DuPage Editor Bob Smith referred to his work group as "Hounds" (presumably short for "news hounds").

When I started working at the Daily Herald, we had three reporting groups on the city staff. One was the A-Team. I was a member of the Bluebirds, a B-word that referred to the stylized bluebird of happiness we ran on every front page 40 or 50 years ago. Because, really, who wants to settle for the "B-Team"?


And, yes, there was the C-Section, a motley bunch to be sure. I probably belonged there, truth be told.

I'd say just mix it up, have fun with it, but never at someone's expense.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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