A cohort is a group

I came across the word “cohorts” in a story the other day. Fans of “The Stephanie Miller Show,” heard weekdays on Chapel Hill’s WCHL 1360 AM, will have a chance to see the zany radio host and her on-air cohorts up close when the show comes to Carrboro’s Arts Center Sept. 16. I remembered an old lesson about a “cohort” being a group of Roman soldiers. Webster’s New World College Dictionary gives the first definition as “an ancient Roman military unit of 300 to 400 men, constituting a tenth of a legion.” So “cohorts” would be several units of soldiers, not several individuals. As a younger copy editor, I had this word marked up on my copy and I have been sensitive to it since.

“Cohorts,” though, is in wide use as a synonym for “colleagues” or “associates.” I changed the reference in the story I was editing, but I felt a bit like the boy with his finger in the dike. It’s just a stopgap measure by one person.

In looking into “cohort” for this entry, I discovered something wonderful. The book “Words on Words” by John B. Bremner is available online at Google Print, for now, at least. (The Google Print project is on hold.)

Bremner, the late journalism professor at the Universty of Kansas, wrote his “Dictionary for Writers and Others Who Care About Words” in 1980, and the book is still one of the best for copy editors. The book is available from its publisher, Columbia University Press.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.