Horde, Trooper, and Towards
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.
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.”
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.
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