Trooper or Trouper?

By Maeve Maddox

A reader is bothered by the mixing up of the words trooper and trouper:

Please, please, please write a column on the misuse of “trooper” for “trouper.”  In my local newspaper this morning, a family member said this about a terminally-ill child:  “She’s a real trooper.”  I don’t think the young girl is a member of the police force! 

To many English speakers, a trooper is a mounted policeman or soldier. In the U.S., a trooper patrols the roads in a police car.

A trouper is the member of an acting group called a troupe.

The words troop and troupe both entered English from the same French word:

troop: 1540s,”body of soldiers,” from French troupe.

troupe: 1825, “company, band,” from French troupe.

The OED gives these definitions of the colloquial uses:

trooper: A brave or stalwart person.
trouper: A reliable, uncomplaining person; a staunch supporter or colleague.

One of the citations given in the OED in the entry for trouper is this one:

1912 L. J. VANCE Destroying Angel (1913) vi. 77 I’m as superstitious as any trooper in the profession.

A screenwriter, Vance apparently thought of himself as belonging to the acting profession, yet he used an unexpected spelling.

With two words so similar in origin, meaning, and pronunciation, mix-ups are bound to occur.

Bottom line: If the context has to do with courage, trooper is appropriate. If the context has to do with cooperation, dependability, and the show business attitude of “the show must go on,” then trouper is the word to use.

I once taught a seventh grade class that included a girl suffering from leukemia. She attended school when she could. When she couldn’t, she still did her homework and sent it in. The day I learned that she’d died, I found her last assignment in my mailbox. That little girl was both a trooper and a trouper.

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10 Responses to “Trooper or Trouper?”

  • Lawrence Miller

    May the soul of that little girl repose in a place of rest and verdure where all the righteous repose. She was indeed both a trooper and a trouper. I’ll not soon forget that little story.

    It would be nice if you could give us her Christian (first) name of that little one. Then one would know the name of her whom they were remembering in their prayers for the reposed in Christ.

  • Biri

    This troper has to add one more term to finish the set – troper, a member of & a contributor to the TVTropes wiki. Although any troper’s trouperosity has to be ascertained individually, the braveness (if not brevity), with which many tropers delve into the depths of fiction, cannot be denied.

  • Gul muhammad

    I also understand that troop and troupe is same meaning,but after reading i understand this difference.thanx hopefully you will be support in language to decrease errors.

  • Lucy Appleby

    Thank you – excellent and specific answer.

  • Will

    I bet I know one or two hardened, brave, stalwart paratroop veterans from the 101st Airborne Division who are also reliable, uncomplaining, and staunch supporters of their “colleagues.” They might not understand why they lose out to a troupe of thespians.

  • Leslie

    Well, we should just change the history of the words to accommodate Will. I get his point, but they are different words. Deal with it.

  • Bernard

    There’s no need to be too militant about this. Let’s just admit that there is substantial crossover between the two.

  • Tami

    I named my rat terrier Trouper for his ability to maintain such joy and love despite being abandoned and spending time at the pound.

  • Steve Craver

    “A brave or stalwart person.” I think that was the definition being conveyed is correct. You be brave and/or stalwart with a terminal disease and you too can be a real trooper.

  • AnWulf

    The truth is that troup and troop come from the same word with the same meaning (a band of folk). It is nothing more than the same theatre, theater debate. There are some folk who wrongly think that theatre is for the stage and theater is for films. That is nothing more than eisegesis.

    Furthermore, words, meanings, and usage can float about for many years before they’re written down. It is just as likely, if not more likely, that “real trooper” was floating about meaning army troopers and was pickt up by the actors. After all, most folks don’t know even know there is another spelling of troop … and this is what it is—another, later spelling of trooper … floating about.

    The verb troupe (per M-W) means: to travel in a troupe; also : to perform as a member of a theatrical troupe … One “troops” out on a stage meaning to walk. So if the first writer of “real trooper” meant to walk out on the stage then he was wrong in the first place! I’d hav to see how it was written in woven into the weft of the writing, but the writer might hav been being sarcastic when he wrote trouper … or he might hav been a francophile and only liked the French spelling better.

    And, if you tell an Army trooper that he is a “real trouper”, you might get hurt.

    In the end, there is nothing wrong with writing “real trooper”. Most of the times the folks hav a hardcore Army trooper in mind rather than an actor so to write “trouper” would be wrong.

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