Dan Kennedy, my favorite media critic, posted this observation about President Bush using “troop” as a singular form of “troops” on his blog.
Linguist John McWhorter, in a commentary for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” March 27:
One cannot refer to a single soldier as a troop. This means that calling 20,000 soldiers “20,000 troops” depersonalizes the soldiers as individuals, and makes a massive number of living, breathing individuals sound like some kind of mass or substance, like water or Jell-O, or some kind of freight.
President Bush, March 29:
We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we’ve got a troop in harm’s way, we expect that troop to be fully funded.
I disagree with McWhorter’s assertion that the singular troop “depersonalizes” soldiers. If it does, doesn’t using “soldier” or “trooper” or referring to any person by a job title depersonalize him or her as well?
Furthermore, with all of President Bush’s misspeaks, I’m not sure this one is all that significant.