Platoon - Etymology


The word is derived from the 17th-century French peloton, meaning a small detachment of soldiers. The word came from pelote meaning a small ball. The suffix "-on" is in principle a diminutive suffix in French, so peloton is a diminutive of "small ball". It then took the meaning of a small group of people, in particular a small group of soldiers, a platoon or, more specifically, a firing squad. The modern French word peloton, when not meaning platoon, refers to the main group of riders in a bicycle race (as opposed to any group or individual rider either well in the lead or trailing the main group). There is no evidence that peloton may have originally meant "volley" (of musket balls). "Pelote", but not "peloton", also means a little ball (used for various games); there is no record that peloton may have originally indicated a single musket ball. It is thus not correct to say that the name corresponds to the original purpose of a platoon which was to be the basic unit for volley firing.

Pelote itself originally comes from the low Latin "pilotta" from Latin "pila", meaning "ball", and the French suffix "-on" derives from the Latin suffix "-onus".

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