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Trooper or Trouper?

Super Trouper

Super Trooper?

Ever wonder why the ABBA song is called “Super Trouper”? Shouldn’t it be spelled “trooper”? Spellcheck won’t help you here, because we’re talking about two different words.

A trouper is someone who keeps going under difficult circumstances without complaint. The word comes from a theatre troupe and suggests a the-show-must-go-on attitude.

A trooper is a member of a military troop. You might look to such a person for inventive swear words, but not cheerful smiles and a can-do attitude. (The same word gives us a crowd of people trooping from one place to another; that is, moving together in the same direction, as in a military manoeuvre.)

  • Get enough sherry into Great Aunt Lavinia and she starts swearing like a trooper and poking people with her cane.
  • Everything that could go wrong during the balloon expedition, short of fatal accident, did; but Edith was a real trouper, helping the pilot spill the ballast and keeping the passengers’ spirits up with a rousing sing-along.

It’s Raining Homonyms

Hiroshige

Rain of Terror

The words rein and reign sometimes get swapped by mistake. Reins control a horse, so you want rein for expressions having to do with control or restraint: rein in, give free rein. To reign is to rule, so use reign when you’re talking about dominance: reign of terror, reign supreme.

  • Try to rein in your anarchist tendencies during the tea party.
  • She gave her decorator free rein and ended up with a rococo bathroom, complete with flushing cherubs.
  • Long after the sheep’s reign of terror had ended, the farmer still flinched at the faintest “baa.”

Straight and Narrow

Strait (a narrow channel between two bodies of water) is often wrongfully neglected in favour of its more familiar cousin, straight. But strait is the word you want for straitlaced, straitjacket, dire straits, and straitened circumstances. Just remember that strait relates to everything narrow or constrained: a corset laced very tightly, a garment used to restrain patients, or a tight spot.

Straight, on the other hand, suggests a lack of deviation: a straight line, straight to the point, straight-shooting, etc. Straight also implies honesty—no detours from the truth.

  • Straitlaced men were like catnip to the succubus.
  • The straitjacket was nothing to Houdini, but the bubble gum stymied him.
  • Give it to me straight, Joe: do I make you hungry?

The Literal Truth

Some people (you know who you are) use the word literally all wrong. They trot it out to add oomph to their pronouncements, not realizing it was born for a completely different role. To say you mean something literally is to swear off metaphors, figures of speech, exaggerations, and other flights of fancy. You’re declaring that you mean exactly what you say—no more, no less.

If you complain that you’re literally starving, then your body has begun to consume its internal organs. If you announce that you’re literally walking on air, expect a visit from the Department of Defence. Literally asks for your words to be taken at face value, as if read by an unimaginative robot. It’s a highly specialized word, and the only time you’re likely to need it is when your reader might think you’re being fanciful and you want to assure them you’re not:

  • At the height of her anorexia disorder, she was literally starving herself to death.
  • Without evildoers to catch, Spiderman found himself literally climbing the walls with boredom.
  • My boss shouted himself into such a rage he was literally foaming at the mouth; some of us were hit by flying spittle.

When you find yourself about to pull out literally, think twice. Maybe you meant to reach for its cousin totally instead. A careful use of literally will save you the embarrassment of describing yourself as literally boiling mad (you’re a lobster?) or literally dead on your feet (you’re a zombie) or literally shit-faced (doesn’t bear thinking about).