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NB: Hap Arnold was awarded the rank of "General of the Air Force" in 1949.

What does that really have to do with this article? I suggest checking out General of the Air Force for data about the rank. -Husnock 02:51, 12 November 2005 (UTC)

Splitting it up[edit]

I was thinking this article could go the way of Colonel and General and link to articles on the rank of Major in various countries, such as Major (US), Major (UK), and Major (Germany). That would be a huge edit and might draw some frie. What does everyone think? -Husnock 04:59, 2 December 2005 (UTC)

I just now acted on this idea and just did a "Major rewrite" AH! No pun intended. -Husnock 01:10, 14 December 2005 (UTC)

Major = Sergeant Major[edit]

My understanding is that the commissioned rank of major (and equivalents, e.g., Feldwachtmeister Oberst, etc.) and the non-commissioned rank of sergeant major (and equivalents, e.g., Feldwebel, Feldwachtmeister, etc.) are historically connected. The sergeant (and equivalents) is the experienced man appointed by the captain of the company to arrange the men in formations and watches. When the personnel of the company are associated with other companies to form a large battle formation (a battle or battalion), orginally a phalanx with some thousands of men in it, the senior sergeant in charge of this operation is the sergeant major (sergent major, Feldwachtmeister, etc.). Major here is an adjective in the comparative grade and simply means "bigger, older, senior." I suspect Feld- functions similarly and means "in the field, for the campaign, acting."

As companies came to be associated administrtively in regiments (companies swearing to the same captain's regime or articles of war) the colonel, his lieutenant (colonel) and the regimental sergeant major were actually the captains of particular companies in the regiment, and so the regimental sergeant major had the substantive rank of captain and was not simply one of the company sergeants.

The corresponding officers for the field army as the whole were the colonel (or captain) general, the lieutenant general, and the sergeant major general, general here being an adjective like major and meaning "for all the army." General officers were originally temporary appointments, held for a particular operation only.

Both sergeant major (of the regiment) and sergeant major general (of the army) were often shortened, to major and major general, respectively, but you don't have to look far in 18th Century literature to find (commissioned) majors referred to as sergeant majors or the equivalent, and I have seen major general explained as sergeant major general, though I have not actually seen the term in use. However, this is why Marshall Berthier's title as chief of staff of the Grande Armee was "major general" though his functions had nothing to do with getting the army arrayed in lines and brigades and his substantive rank was higher than what the French of the period called generaux de division.

So, as the company has a captain, lieutenant, and sergeant, the regiment has a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and (sergeant) major, and the army as a whole has a colonel or captain general, a lieutenant general, and a (sergeant) major general.

This is an idealized picture, of course, and tends to collapse together the state of affairs at different times and in different places, but I think it is essentially correct, and explains a lot.

The degree of terminological asymmetry in my argument above is due to my awkward merger in presentation of the administrative company < regiment hierarchy with the tactical platoon < battalion < army hierarchy. However, this awkward merger is part of the history of the situation. Perhaps a clearer conceptual picture would be produced by replacing the middle regimental level with a "great battalion" or phalanx level, in which the officers are the captain major, the lieutenant major, and the sergeant major. The problem is that I am not aware of any references to the first two offices. The closest I have seen to this is mid 18th Century Austrian references to the three battalions of a regiment as being of the Obrist (Oberst), Obrist Leutenant, and Obrist Feldwachtmeister (= Major). Since Oberst ~ Obrist is plainly *oberest "most senior" we have essentially (captain) major, lieutenant major and (field) sergeant major, with captain omitted in the first case and field superfluous in the second.

Alternatively, one way of explaining colonel < colonella 'little column' is to think of it as a shortening of "captain of the colonella" with colonella = battalion, i.e., one of the three "battle formations" making up the army. (Of course, a colonella or "suh-column" would refer not to the deployed "battalion" or "battle formation" but to the ployed column of march.) By this logic, colonel was originally a term for a (senior) captain acting as commander of a (great) battalion, rather than coming into existence as an oddly formed term for a captain controlling an administrative collection of companies. In that case we could think of the (captain) colonel, the lieutenant colonel, and the sergeant colonel, but I am not aware of the first and third terms existing.

In effect, at the level between the company and the army we never have a pure and consistant terminology. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Pasna (talkcontribs) 05:51, 5 January 2007 (UTC).

Other meanings of Major[edit]

I notice that there's no mention of the word as the one-word abbreviation for Academic major although this is a common usage in colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, a not-unsubstantial population that uses Wikipedia, and is mentioned in the academic major article. I'd suggest some mention and possibly a disambiguation mention. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Wiikiwiiki (talkcontribs) 22:47, 27 January 2008 (UTC)


This article was vandalised for 42 minutes and no one saw it or did anything. This is unacceptable. What do we do about problem things like this? Lock the article? --Vergency (talk) 23:58, 13 March 2008 (UTC)

Disputed text[edit]

The following was re moveved by one editor without explanation but it is fair to say that it comes accross as spuriously anecdtoal or even orginal research. Sources need to be shown.

Much more rarely, the unhyphenated term has also often been used to denote senior-ranking general officers, usually in countries where European languages are foreign and interpreters fail to recognize the multiple levels of 'major' ranks in European militaries, and is used to indicate the most senior of all generals, or in countries of recurring civil war and upheaval, where it is not all that uncommon for a low-ranking officer to rise in rank quite rapidly and become the leader of some faction or another, and in order to avoid the potentially deadly mistake of mis-addressing a colonel as "captain" or a general as either "captain" or "colonel", it is simply safer to address anyone of unknown rank as "major" until otherwise corrected, for its convenient ambiguity.

Dainamo (talk) 23:30, 16 July 2009 (UTC)


I have removed the following external link for two reasons:

  1. WP:ADV and WP:LINKSPAM: The user has a history of adding links] to several sites over Wikimedia projects in several languages. Looking into the domain registration information of these sites makes me think these additions are not good faith edits, but SEO site promotion.
  2. WP:ELNO: the site is not directly related to the article subject.
  3. WP:ELNO: there is nothing in that site that can not be found in Wikipedia. Actually, Wikipedia covers the subject ways better than the site in question.
  4. WP:NONENGEL: the site is in Russian, and insignia description is partially in Russian, the benefit to the reader is questionable.

--ElComandanteChe (talk) 11:31, 3 April 2011 (UTC)

Hmmm. A well presented, well argued and convincing line of reasoning. OK. I agree. Pdfpdf (talk) 01:38, 4 April 2011 (UTC)
Thank you :) --ElComandanteChe (talk) 07:18, 4 April 2011 (UTC)

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