Friday, April 25, 2014

The Thin Green Line: A Copse of Park Rangers

A copse of (would-be) park rangers, including the author.
Though The Book of St. Albans (1486) contains the names for groups of people by office and occupation, it lacks a collective noun for constables, sheriffs or others officers of the law. Rather than a whimsical term befitting a "young gentleman," English seems to have filled this gap more democratically. The London Magazine reported for May 21, 1753 that a "posse of constables with their staves" had put to flight "colliers and other country people" assembled on account of the "dearness of corn" in the city of Bristol. Occupy corn.

Significantly, posse here appears not to mean "posse comitatus," a group of volunteers led by an officer of the law for a specific purpose, but more expansively a "company or force with legal authority" or a "band of persons or animals." That the word can mean either a group solely of law enforcement personnel or otherwise, is confirmed in later American sources. In 1878, a report to the Pennsylvania General Assembly on a railroad strike has a questioner asking "did you make ... any demand for a posse of police?" The interrogant responds "of the regular force?" The questioner clarifies, "of any force," indicating a "posse" covers a multitude of law enforcement arrangements.  

Internet inquiries for "posse of police" (or "posse of police officers") run nearly nearly one-half million, but are still outnumbered by several hundred thousand by "squad of police" and related iterations. They are used more or less interchangeably by newspaper writers and others. Considerably less numerous is "patrol of police officers" and its variations, though perhaps this is because this term of venery is (or should be) limited to those situations in which officers are behind the wheel or walking a beat.

There is no particular reason not to apply any of these terms to park rangers, forest rangers, game wardens and similar professions, at least when performing similar duties. All the same, it is worth noting that park rangers and their cohorts perform both law enforcement and non-law enforcement duties, such that a different term might be in order. Their resource management and conservation responsibilities similarly recommend a more specific word.  

The English term "ranger" (which first appears in 1341) is thought to correspond to the Medieval Latin term "regardatores" (which dates from 1217) as these early rangers "regarded" or watched over a royal forest. Their duties in some respects mirrored those of a "mounted forester" at the time. Significantly, the Book of St. Albans includes a term of venery for foresters: stalk. This, however, refers not to flora, but to the stalking of prey. It is evident that the job of a ranger has diverged significantly from this as well as from that of a modern forester.

A regard of park rangers, forest rangers or game wardens would tie these professions to their past as regardatores, but a copse of rangers and wardens would plant them squarely in both the natural and law enforcement fields. The double entendre and its homophony with "cops" work to its advantage as the preferred term of venery.

* guardaparque, guardabosques, agente forestal  {es}

* agent forestal, guardabosc, guarda forestal {ca} 
One cannot help but mention the Cos d'Agents Rurals serves as a rough analogue.
* garde forestier, garde nature, garde de parc (Canada) {fr} 
The English equivalent of "garde de parc" is "park warden" in Canada. The oddity is that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the phrase "park ranger" is used, and as noted above, has been used since 1341. Given its Latin equivalent, the adjectival form of ranger should naturally be "regardatorial."

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