When President Obama referred to the “Corpsmen” (very much alive and kicking) he used the pronunciation for a dead body: “corpse” with the hard p and s (notice the e in the end). What a great teaching moment this is for all of us in education, or those who just cherish language.
Not that our lives depend on how we pronounce a word (contrary to the Army Corps, which was the subject of the President’s presentation, and which does indeed deal with life and death situations), but every citizen diplomat can show a level of sophistication (and clarity of thought) when the correct name is used for an organization.
The term “corps” applies to many other groups, not just the Army Corps of Engineers. In my book I quote from an argument I had with someone who said it wasn’t necessary for me to dwell on the pronunciation of a consular corps, because – and this was the argument – every middle schooler in the U.S. is familiar with the Marine Corps and, therefore, knows how to pronounce it. My readers soon discovered that I was right. The corpse is always there, ready to be mis-spelled and mis-pronounced.
So, to bring the dead body (the corpse) to life once again: a group of consuls is correctly a (consular) corps (pronounced as “k-o-o-h-r” (silent p and s). And the same applies to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Marine Corps, etc. But where they are different from a consular corps is with their “corpsmen.” We don’t use that term for consuls who are members of a consular corps.
Oh, those French and the diplomatic language they gave us!