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Words, Oct. 7

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"4 troops die in Afghanistan"

A reader asks: "What if only one person had been killed? Would the headline have read, 'A troop dies in Afghanistan'? The Arkansas State Police have Troop A, Troop B, etc., and the individual officers are called 'troopers,' not 'troops.' Can't we come up with a better word than 'troops' to fit this situation?"

In military usage, troops means a body of soldiers. We could call the individual members of the body "troopers," I suppose, but that word has acquired specialized meanings, such as "state trooper" and "the guys on horseback in old John Ford movies," that would hamper its use in the broader sense.

We may be stuck with what we have. Garner's Modern American Usage says, "While some object to the use of troops (always plural) to refer to individuals, the usage is hardly new [citing an 1853 report in the New York Times]. Today it's standard, despite the inherent ambiguity presented by the collective sense of troop."

"U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services proposes endangered status for the Ozark Hellbender. Species is among the world's largest salamanders."

When Arkansas State was looking for a new name for its football team, to replace the politically incorrect "Indians," Stephen Koch suggested "Hellbenders." It would be a unique and colorful name, he said, and appropriate, since the Ozark Hellbender is native to the ASU region. I lent my support, but even so, ASU officials chose Red Wolves instead. Koch says the ASU people apparently were concerned about the "hell" part of the name. I understand; Jonesboro is not so sophisticated as Little Rock, where we have a Big Dam Bridge.

But the missed opportunities sadden. ASU cheerleaders won't be able to scatter their counterparts by exhibiting one of the world's largest salamanders. Koch, a musical sort, would have worked up a fight song, I'm sure, possibly incorporating words and music from a salamander number memorably performed by Mamie Van Doren in a 1950s movie. And the cheer I devised — We're Hellbenders! We'll eat your chicken tenders! — will be lost on the dustheap of history.

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