If someone is a trouper he or she does what needs to be done without complaining or whining. A trouper is also part of a troupe, or a group of people, usually an acting troupe or theatre troupe.
If someone is a trooper he or she is a soldier at entry level or an officer in the police. In British English it is also a ship used to move troops.
Some dictionaries list trooper as a synonym of trouper, however, this seems to be by association and misuse, rather than a valid connection.
What a trooper!
Does this phrase look correct to you? It’s okay if it does because using trooper instead of the correct word is a very common mix-up.
In the phrase above, you should use trouper instead of trooper.
A trouper is a person who is a member of a troupe (a group of performers, such as actors). A trooper is a soldier (a member of a group of troops), a police officer (such as a state trooper), or a person in a similar category of jobs.
We use trouper in the phrase above and similar phrases (such as he is such a trouper) when we refer to a person who has overcome obstacles. The popular phrase the show must go on comes from the idea that even if bad things happen (a piece of the set breaks or an actor has a sore throat), the troupe must continue with the show—lest they be pelted with tomatoes coming from angry audience members.
When you refer to someone as a trouper, you are giving him or her a compliment and saying in short that even though the s/he has had bad things happen, s/he has continued on and worked to overcome the obstacles. The show must go on.
- Get enough sherry into Great Aunt Lavinia and she starts swearing like a trooper and poking people with her cane.
- Everything that could go wrong during the balloon expedition, short of fatal accident, did; but Edith was a real trouper, helping the pilot spill the ballast and keeping the passengers’ spirits up with a rousing sing-along.
Blame it on the French
One reason for the trooper and trouper confusion is because both words come from the same root word, troupe. The Middle French language gave us the word troupe, which then meant a band of people. In the 1540s, English got troop (and thus trooper) from this word, adapting it to mean a body of soldiers. Then, in the 1820s, we began using troupe in English to mean a group of performers, a member of which is a trouper.
With two words so similar in origin, meaning, and pronunciation, mix-ups are bound to occur.
The OED gives these definitions of the colloquial uses:
trooper: A brave or stalwart person.
trouper: A reliable, uncomplaining person; a staunch supporter or colleague.
Bottom line: If the context has to do with courage, trooper is appropriate. If the context has to do with cooperation, dependability, and the show business attitude of “the show must go on,” then trouper is the word to use.