rank and file: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘rank and file’ mean?

"Rank and file" refers to the ordinary members of a group or organization, who do not hold positions of leadership or decision-making power.

Idiom Explorer

In The Ranks

The idiom "rank and file" is commonly used to refer to the ordinary members of a group or organization. It is derived from its military origins, where it specifically denoted the soldiers who served side by side in the lines, forming the backbone of an army. The term "rank" refers to the rows, while "file" represents the soldiers within those rows.

Over time, the usage of "rank and file" expanded beyond the military and extended to any organized body. It is frequently employed in political discussions to describe the general members of a political party, union, or other organized group. In the case of labor unions, the term specifically refers to the non-official members who constitute the majority of the union.

The New York Times categorizes idioms for advanced readers.

However, the idiom "rank and file" is not limited to political or military contexts. It also holds a figurative meaning when used to contrast regular, everyday workers or employees with higher-ranking executives or managers within a company or organization. This emphasizes the distinction between leaders and average workers within a hierarchical structure.

"rank and file" can be used in a broader sense to describe any group of people who are considered ordinary members working collectively towards a common goal. It symbolizes unity and solidarity among those in similar positions, underscoring their importance in achieving an overall objective.

When examining the related idioms "grass roots" and "grunt level," it becomes evident that they share common themes with "rank and file." In fact, these idioms represent different aspects of the same idea, highlighting the significance of collective effort and the contributions of many in achieving shared objectives.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "rank and file" can be used in a sentence:

  1. The company's CEO addressed both the management team and the rank and file employees during the town hall meeting.
  2. The union leader fought for better wages and improved working conditions for the rank and file members.
  3. In the military, promotions are not only based on merit but also on the opinions of the rank and file soldiers.

The idiom "rank and file" refers to the ordinary members or participants of a group, organization, or institution. These individuals are typically not in positions of leadership or authority. The term is often used to distinguish the general membership from those in higher levels of power or decision-making roles.

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