A cohort (cohors) of the Roman army was an infantry unit equivalent to one-tenth of a legion, and typically consisted of about 500 soldiers. In the plural it has often been used as a literary word for ‘army’, as in Byron's reference to Sennacherib (1815): And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold. As well as a technical meaning in demography, the word has in the 20c developed a meaning (originally AmE) ‘an assistant, colleague, accomplice’, probably influenced by the coincidence of the first element with the prefix co-:

• Mr Stratton consented…to partake together with his cohort of a sandwich and a glass of milk —A. Cross, 1967

• The impending trial of Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther movement, and his eight cohorts in New Haven —Sunday Times, 1970

• Brock and Emma had one wall, Bob, Johnny and their cohorts the other wall and centre aisle —John Le Carré, 1979.

The incongruity of this use is masked by its frequent appearance in the plural, and the singular even appears to be a kind of back-formation. Language becomes vulnerable when the specific historical significance of words is so easily forgotten.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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