Rank and File
Soldiers of any grade below that of lance-sergeant are so
called, collectively, in military phraseology, and any two soldiers of
such grade are spoken of as “a file;” thus, 100 rank and file would
equal 50 file, that is, 50 men standing behind each other in a row. No
soldier ever talks of files in the plural, or about “a file of
fours.” As there are two in a “rank,” there is a left file and a right file; and men may move in “single
file” or in “double file.” A line of soldiers drawn up side by side
or abreast is a rank.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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