Star Wars has storm troopers; ABBA sings about being a “super trouper.” Which spelling is correct?
|Troopers and troupers|
Trooper and trouper are homonyms—spell-check-confounding words that sound the same but have different meanings. Both words relate to groups, but their connotations are worlds apart.
A trouper is someone who keeps going under difficult circumstances without complaint. The word comes from a theatre troupe and suggests someone who plasters on a smile and declares, “The show must go on!” It also connotes group coherence, putting the good of the show above one performer’s ego.
- Everything that could go wrong during the balloon expedition, did—short of fatal accident—but Zahra was a real trouper, helping the pilot spill the ballast and keeping the passengers’ spirits up with a rousing singalong.
|Everything that could go wrong during the balloon expedition, did.|
A trooper is a member of a military troop, someone you might look to for colourful curses but not so much for cheerful smiles and a helpful attitude. The same root gives us a crowd of people trooping from one place to another, that is, moving together in the same direction, as in a military march.
- Get enough sherry into the Lady Dowager and she starts swearing like a trooper and goosing footmen with her cane.
So Star Wars and ABBA are both right. (Shame on you for doubting George Lucas or the Swedes!) When you’re unsure which spelling to use, remember troopers go to war and troupers go on stage: one swears and one smiles.
Disclaimer: According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, trooper has been used so often instead of trouper to mean “a resilient, hard-working, reliable, or uncomplaining person” that this spelling has become acceptable. So go ahead and use it, if you must. But isn't it nice to know the difference?