• cohort •
Pronunciation: ko-hort • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, collective (singular referring to many)
Meaning: 1. A unit in the Roman army comprising 6 centuries (units of 100 men each). 2. A substantial group of people united in purpose. 3. An associate or supporter in some venture of questionable morality.
Notes: Today's Good Word is in a state of flux. Historically, it has been used as a collective noun, a singular noun that refers to more than one object, like team and group (the nouns that the British use with plural verbs: "the team are ready", "the group have convened"). In the US, however, this word is assuming a new meaning (No. 3 above) referring to a single person. This has led to expressions like "the president and his cohorts" rather than "his cohort". This usage, in turn, degenerated even further into the slang expression in cahoots with, meaning "plotting with", popularized by the sidekick of Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes.
In Play: Although we know we will not slow the flow of this word's singularization, we still prefer it as a collective noun: "Susan Liddy-Gates showed up in court with a cohort of the most expensive lawyers in town." Be careful how you use this word; it often conveys a shade of pejorativity: "Jimmy Chonga and a cohort of his cronies marched into the meeting as though they owned it."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed via French from Latin cohor(t)s "military unit containing 6 centuries", where a century is a unit of 100 soldiers. It contains the prefix co- "with" + hort- the stem of hortus "garden, enclosure", as in horticulture. The same root gave us Russian gorod "city" from the time when cities were enclosed, the grad in Leningrad, and German Garten "garden" as in Kindergarten. In English we find it in garden and girdle, something that encloses a stomach. Hangar was borrowed from Old French hangard "enclosure, shelter" probably borrowed from Germanic heimgardaz "home enclosure, garden". In Greek we find choros "round dance", which may have originally referred to an enclosed dance area. This word turns up in many English borrowings like chorus, carol, and choir, all originating in Greek choros. (Let us all rise now and offer a choir of thanks to Lawrence McFarland-Groves for suggesting we add today's Good Word to our growing lexical garden.)