Horde, Trooper, and Towards

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Some usage errors are so widespread that readers begin to wonder if they’re mistaken about the correct form.

A reader came across the phrase “hoards of databases” used to mean “many databases.” He thought the usage was incorrect, but as the usage was printed in “a best selling book from quite a famous publisher,” he doubted his own judgment:

“My question is: is the incorrect usage becoming acceptable nowadays?”

No, horde and hoard still have different meanings. The context calls for “hordes of databases” because the meaning is “a vast number.” The earliest use of horde was to refer to a large number of tribal people, but now it is used to refer to things as well as people.

The noun spelled hoard means “an accumulation of something of value that has been hidden or put aside until wanted.” In early use, hoard meant anything hidden, like treasure. Beowulf’s dragon sleeps on a hoard.

See “Hordes of People Shouldn’t Hoard.”

Another reader questions the following headline in her local newspaper:

Three-year-old Martinsburg girl battling leukemia a real trooper

Asks the reader,

Shouldn’t that be ‘trouper’?

Yes, it should. A troupe is a performing group, like a ballet troupe or an acting troupe. The word trooper refers to military or paramilitary personnel. Although one does expect troopers to be tough and hardworking, trouper is the word that is used with the meaning “a brave, hardworking, persistent, dedicated person.”

See ”Trooper or Trouper?”

Finally, a reader is puzzled by an interview with an American speaker who was present when the bombs went off at the 2013 Boston Marathon:

He keeps saying towards, for example, “Several people have asked me why I ran towards the smoke.”

The usual take on the difference between toward and towards is that toward is American usage and towards is British usage. Fowler called towards the preferred usage and toward either “literary or provincial.” I usually write towards, but dutifully remove the s when revising. I suspect that other American speakers do also. The American AP Stylebook states flatly, “toward: not towards.” The Chicago Manual of Style adds a note about other directional words:

The same is true for other directional words, such as upward, downward, forward, and backward, as well as afterward. The use of afterwards and backwards as adverbs is neither rare nor incorrect. But for the sake of consistency, it is better to stay with the simpler form.

If you are writing for an American publication, go with toward.

See ”Running Toward the House or Towards the House?”

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9 thoughts on “Horde, Trooper, and Towards”

  1. I fought like a trooper to reject “like a trouper,” but I stuck like a trouper with my investigation until I found out you were right.

    After finding that the trouper variant doesn’t even appear in some American online dictionaries, I thought “like a trouper” might be British while the trooper variant might be American.

    Then I found that “like a trooper” dates to the early 1700’s whereas “like a trouper” is less than a century old. (Thank you for teaching me, by example, to use Google’s n-gram viewer!)

    The trouper variant began to gain popularity in the 1920’s. Coincidentally, movie makers began popularizing theater’s mythology during that period.

    “Like a trooper” compares its subject’s rough behavior to that of an uncouth soldier. An equivalent term is “like a sailor.”

    “Like a trouper,” in contrast, compares its subject’s behavior to the “Yankee Doodle do or die” attitude of a diligent actor.

    I suspect that, as entertainers began glorifying themselves in the 1920’s, some writer cleverly made a pun on “like a trooper” and, as we would say today, the new term and its meaning went viral.

  2. You’ll get people who will argue against using “toward” instead of “towards.” They’re often the same ones who spell “theater” English style, put two spaces after periods, and don’t know which punctuation marks go inside quotes. Doing it your own way or the way you’ve always done it is a bad idea if you want to write for an American publication. I’ve found that while these things seem minor–even petty–knowing them signals that you are a professional writer.

  3. Rich,
    My hat is off to a fellow word sleuth. Your comment is a valuable addendum to this post.


  4. Bill,
    You say it all in your last sentence. The professional writer respects the language because the language–with its pertinent writing conventions–is the tool of his craft. What’s the proverb? “A bad workman blames his tools.”

  5. Maeve,

    I believe you’ve misquoted (or misheard) the proverb. I’ve always heard it, “A *poor* workman blames his tools.” That would be gooder English, wouldn’t it?

    As to trooper/trouper, I’m certain I’ve seen more incorrect usages than not. I’m safe, though, since I’ve never used either one myself.

  6. Curtis,
    I believe that the proverb is a translation of a French proverb. I’ve seen it both ways, “poor” and “bad.” Btw, writing that comment made me realize that there are many proverbs about good and bad/poor workmen, probably enough to provide enough material for a post.

  7. I have to admit that I had never even seen “trouper” until a few years ago and always assumed troopers were the reference. It may be another instance where people commonly get a saying wrong because the incorrect version seems to make sense and uses more common words than the correct version does, e.g. anchors away, tow the line.

  8. I wrote this at trooper but it bears writing again:

    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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