Friday, March 28, 2014

Soldiering On Military Ranks

A topic that has piqued my interest occasionally has been pronunciations of "soldier". Not sure of why it's not pronounced "sol-di-er", or not spelled "sol-jer". I got to thinking about military ranks that also mystified me because of pronunciation and spelling. My curiosity led me to look up ranks in general, and ranks across branches of the military.

US Military Branches provided me a bird's eye view—links to the US military branches and pay in the index at the left. At the rank or pay level, you can find out how the ranks vary within each branch. Clicking a branch's rank opens a page with more details of the role. Near the bottom, the Equivalent Ranks section links to the same rank across the branches in the following order: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines (listed as Marine Corps), Navy.

The US Department of Defense has pages with illustrated tables for all five branches for enlisted members and officers (Coast Guard & Navy combined). Curiously, Warrant Officer is notably absent in Air Force, which the DoD officers page shows as "NO WARRANT". In the Wikipedia page for Warrant Officer, the illustrated table shows insignias and grades for all five branches for warrant officers, with the Air Force column heading "discontinued".

Ranks of Interest—Spelling and Pronunciation
Sergeant [sahr-juhnt], from Latin root meaning "serve"

Ensign—Navy/Coast Guard [en-sahyn; Military en-suhn], pertinent to flag, insignia
Lieutenant [loo-ten-uhnt], pertinent to "placeholder"
Captain (kap-tuhn, -tin), pertinent to "head"
Colonel [kur-nl], related to "column"

The general topic
Soldier [sohl-jer]
Ranks of Interest—Rank vs. Non-Military Context (E, enlisted; O, officer)
  • private (E), the member who has the lowest rank and probably least privacy
  • major (O), no major in sea branches, no rank named "minor"
  • petty officer (E), rank with "officer" in title, but not in either warrant of officer category
  • lance corporal (E), visualizing a Renaissance Fair knight engaged in joust
  • general (O), ordinarily meaning ordinary
Commander Bond, Captain, US/British Ranks

During my research, "commander" stuck out as a rank I've heard more in reference to James Bond than American commanders. Commanders rank lower than captains. Captains of the sea rank higher than non-sea captains.

The US Navy and Coast Guard have commander ranks—commander and lieutenant commander—ranks that are just below captain. Captains in sea branches rank higher than captains in the other branches. A Yahoo discussion contrasts naval captain vs. army captain. Visit a Wikipedia page to view a table that compares US and British ranks, including "commander".


Joe Malin said...

The names have fascinating etymologies. If you're fascinated by the origins of words, look up the ranks in Wikipedia. At one time, English armies also had the rank of Ensign. For Americans, RAF ranks are probably the most confusing, since we don't use that system at all.

whilldtkwriter said...

Thanks for your comment, Joe. The etymology of some of the ranks I looked up provided some insight of how steeped in tradition the titles can be.

Meandering a bit, I saw "commodore" and "marshall" in Commodores are better known as pre-PCs and the pop group. As for marshall, I'm more familiar with it in the context of "field marshall", Marshal Tito, and US marshalls WRT cowboy shows or "The Fugitive" (movie, TV show).

Robert said...

Every yacht club has a Commodore – a person, not a computer. :) Soldier has an interesting derivation, coming from soudeour (mercenary), which helps explain the spelling, back through the French for wage and shilling to the Latin solidus, a gold coin used in Europe for centuries. Like a coin, the soldier is a resource; a man paid to fight.

whilldtkwriter said...

Thanks for the extra details, Robert!

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