Friday, 5 June 2015

Élite - The Best of the Best (Unless on Film)

Imperial Stormtroopers: Quite possibly the most useless Elite force in the universe


Noun & adjective. Also elite. Late 18th century.
[From French élite 'selection, choice', from élire 'to elect', from a variant of Latin eligere.]

A1 noun. The choice part, the best, (of society, a group of people, etc.);
a select group or class. L18

A2 noun. (usually elite.) A size of type used on typewriters, having twelve characters to the inch. E20

B attrib. adjective. Of or belonging to an élite; exclusive. M19

Élite is a sorely abused word in the world of fiction. Take the Imperial Stormtroopers of the Star Wars universe, described in Wookieepedia as 'the elite soldiers of the Galactic Empire', and therefore the very best fighting force the Empire can muster - the best trained, the best equipped and the most highly motivated troops out there. Except there's a problem. If the films are anything to go by, Imperial Stormtroopers are completely and utterly useless: they can't shoot, they can't fight, they can't act on their own initiative, and they're encumbered by the most impractical, battle-rubbish armour ever designed in the history of warfare.

And there are hordes of Stormtroopers - an "endless supply" according to Darth Vader - which further calls their élite status into question; if the definition of élite means select, who in the galaxy was passed over during the selection process? Exactly how low could the bar for entry into the Imperial Stormtroopers be? Their famed ineptitude in battle has spawned a number of terms to describe their ingrained naffness, including the Stormtrooper Effect and the Principle of Evil Marksmanship, which state that the more outnumbered a hero is, the more likely his enemies are to miss their shots, even when the chance of all enemies missing is vanishingly small.

Star Wars isn't the only culprit in the abuse of élite, however - martial arts films misuse and abuse it in abundance. A shining example of this is the ninja, widely regarded as an élite fighter. Without a doubt, individual ninjas are often unfathomably powerful, and even a bevy of skilled heroes will struggle to defeat one. Collectively, however, these élite fighters descend to the depths of ineptitude that would make the Empire proud. In fact, the Inverse Ninja Law states that the more ninjas there are, the more useless they become, allowing a single protagonist to successfully tackle tens, if not hundreds, of élite ninjas simultaneously. Now, I'm no military strategist, but I'm pretty sure that's not how élite forces work ...

Successful applicants to the Imperial Stormtrooper and Evil Ninja Academies.

Do you know of any particularly egregious misapplications of the word élite?

Do please leave your most select comments in the box below.


  1. I was speechless after looking at those video clips. Actually, no I wasn't. I coined a new word. In true Lexi fashion I joined today's offering with the word of June 2nd and, without too much trouble, arrived at: 'éleejits' meaning 'belonging to an exclusive bunch of idiots.'

    1. If that left you speechless, may I suggest my posts on 'chopsocky' (click here) and 'cabotin' (click here) for further videos of élite ninjas. I suspect all will qualify for your crack éleejit squad, having mastered the dark martial art of éleejitsu.

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