Why is the lowest rank in the army, which affords its holder no privacy whatsoever, called private? The corporal, at least, seems reasonably preoccupied with bodies. But what is a sergeant? Someone bedecked in serge? A warrant officer, I suppose, is the person in the office which processes warrants, but you’d never know it from their duties.
I get lieutenant; he’s a tenant in a place, and the captain is surely the head man. But if he’s the head man, why are there ranks above him?
To be sure, in the navy, there are fewer ranks above captain, but that’s the navy, always going their own way, doubtless from spending so much time on the bounding main, far from civilization. A friend, and ex-submariner, once told me they left port with 150 sailors, and returned with 75 couples. I guess that explains the ranks of mates; very chummy, these sailors. Perhaps it also explains admirals, presumably persons most to be admired. As for the rest of them (only some of whom are able bodied), they are seamen. Very clear and to the point, much like the airmen in the … air force. Someday soon these basic descriptive ranks will have to be modified to reflect the modern military: seapersons and airpersons.
But above the captain in the army there are majors and colonels before you even get to the highest ranks. Majors, I believe, are self-explanatory, but what on earth is a colonel? Something to do with columns? If so, why is he allowed to lord it over the head man?
The generals, those with the highest ranks, presumably do not have any specific duties, like the lower ranks, with the exception of the lowest of them, the brigadier, who mucks about with brigades. Yet they feel compelled to recapitulate practically the entire officer rank system among themselves, from lieutenant to major, skipping colonels, perhaps because generals get nowhere near any columns except during parades.
Don’t get me started on unit designations; that’s something only a very admiral general could explain.