Trooper or Trouper?
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.