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Page Created: 15/08/2004
Last Modified: 7/05/2010
© rnza.co.nz 15/08/2004
 

Subaltern

On this Page:
Lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Pronunciation
Subaltern is a conjunction of the Latin sub, meaning under, and the German or Saxon Altern, meaning elders. Together they indicate someone "under their elders": a "junior".

The two ranks are the lowest of the commissioned ranks.

LieutenantTop

Lieutenant is a combination of parts that mean dweller or occupier and place or stead. The meaning "the occupier of a place" makes perfect sense when the etymology is considered:

Lieu- derives from the Middle English liue, itself from the recognisable Old French lieu, which came from the Latin locus meaning place. The origin of the modern "in lieu of", or its synonym, "in place of" is obvious.

Tenant derives from Middle English via Middle French, from tenir which in the present tense means "to hold", or "to hold a place". In modern use tenant is almost only applied to someone who has possession (not ownership) of real property (land or buildings), but it also means a person who has temporary possession of something belonging to another.

In this sense it is easy to see the relevance of the title Lord-Lieutenant, who was the Monarchs representative in English counties, and the general use of "lieutenant" to mean a person who exercises authority as a deputy or representative of another.

Militarily Lieutenant was the name given to an Officer who deputised for a Captain by leading the Captain's troops in the field. The command responsibilities were only transferred in part, and temporarily, and the Lieutenant had no authority himself but acted "in lieu of", or in "place of", the Captain.

Put another way, the Lieutenant was a junior given limited authority to temporarily deputise for his superior. Hence the Lieutenant was a junior officer who "occupied the place" of a Captain, usually by exercising limited powers of command over a smaller grouping within a fighting unit. The relationship between the origins and the modern use are obvious.

Some armed forces, such as German and American, give this rank the full title "First Lieutenant" to distinguish it from the junior "Second Lieutenant". A Naval Lieutenant has equivalent rank to an Army Captain.

2nd LieutenantTop

This rank was introduced when the rank of Ensign was abolished.

Ensign means standard or standard-bearer, and so was the rank given to the junior officer responsible for the Colours in battle.

PronunciationTop

Where language derives from British English Lieutenant is pronounced lef-tenant. Traditionally the Royal Navy pronounced the word as l'tenant, which is probably closer to the original French. During the 14th and 15th centuries spellings varied and the word can be found as lieftenant, lyeftenant or luftenant. It may be the 'u' was read as a 'v' so that lev-tenant eventually became lef-tenant. In American English it is pronounced loo-tenant, similar to its original form, but unfavourably similar to a popular word for lavatory, so the British form is preferred.

 

 




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