rank and file


rank and file

noun

  1. the members of a group or organization apart from its leaders or officers.
  2. rank1(def 7a).

noun

  1. the ordinary soldiers of an army, excluding the officers
  2. the great mass or majority of any group or organization, as opposed to the leadership
  3. (modifier) of, relating to, or characteristic of the rank and filerank-and-file opinion; rank-and-file support
n.

1590s, in reference to the horizontal and vertical lines of soldiers marching in formation; thence generalized to “common soldiers” (1796) and “common people” (1860).

The people who form the major portion of any group or organization, excluding the leaders: “The rumors of corruption at the top disturbed the party’s rank and file.” This phrase comes from military usage, where enlisted men march in ranks (close abreast) and files (one behind another), whereas officers march outside these formations.

Followers, the general membership, as in This new senator really appeals to the rank and file in the labor unions. This expression comes from the military, where a rank denotes soldiers standing side by side in a row, and file refers to soldiers standing behind one another. The first recorded figurative use of this term was in 1860.

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