12 More Military Terms Used in Civilian Contexts
Following up on a post about words that originally pertained (or in one sense pertain) to military units but have developed nonmilitary connotations based on that sense, here are additional terms referring to military individuals or groups that have civilian senses as well.
1. captain: ultimately from Latin caput (“head”), originally referring to the leader of a war party and later to a military officer in command of a set unit or a ship; later, applied in general to a leader or head of a group or team.
2. cavalry: from Italian cavaliere (“horseman”), a body of soldiers mounted on horses (and later those assigned to mechanized units); by extension, from the cliché in movie westerns of a US cavalry unit coming to the rescue of the protagonists, used in references to one or more people who bring aid to others.
3. lieutenant: from Old French lieu tenant (“in place of”), originally, an officer who was deputy to a captain but later also a specific military rank; in civilian usage, a right-hand man or woman or a subordinate.
4. muster: from Latin monstrare (“to show”)—interestingly, akin to monster—referring to an assembly of military personnel or serving as a verb synonymous with assemble, but also pertains to any assembly, collection, or inventory or to a sample or specimen.
5. picket: from French piquer (“pierce”), a group of soldiers assigned to guard a camp, or the action of doing so; in civilian usage, a distinct meaning of “protesting during a demonstration or strike” or a reference to a sharp stake, such as one that is part of a picket fence.
6. rank-and-file: from Old English ranc (“strong”) and Latin filum (“cord” or “thread), the arrangement of military personnel in rows and columns; by extension, a reference to ordinary employees or members as opposed to those in leadership roles .
7. reserve: from Latin reservare (“keep back”), one or more units of soldiers kept more or less in readiness in case they are needed as reinforcements; in general usage, anything kept in stock or kept apart from a general issue or supply.
8. scout: from Latin auscultare (“heed,” “listen”), a person, sometimes a local civilian—or a group called a scouting party—sent to explore, observe, or search to obtain information about the enemy; in entertainment or sports, someone who observes prospective performers or recruits.
9. sergeant: from Latin serviens (“servant”), originally referred to a servant but later applied to an experienced common soldier who supervised others under command of a nobleman or knight; the term now denotes an experienced soldier or police officer holding the rank of sergeant or (in the military) a variation of the rank such as staff sergeant.
10. task force: from taxare (“tax”), a unit formed temporarily to achieve a specific objective; the sense in civilian usage is the same.
11. troops: from Old French trope (“band,” “company”), also the source of troupe, collectively refers to soldiers (in singular form the name of a specific military unit, not a designation for a single soldier); in general usage, an informal reference to a company’s employees or an organization’s members (as in “Round up the troops for a meeting”).
12. wingman: originally a term for a pilot who supports the leader of a flying formation, now also slang for someone who backs up a person who seeks to approach potential romantic or sexual partners.