There’s no such thing as a “Town Marshall”

Brief by Central Staff

Orthography – July 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

On occasion, we have pointed out typographic and related errors in area publications. We just found another one, minor but common and annoying, in the 2000 Custer County Visitors’ Guide.

It had a short item about the old stone Westcliffe jail behind the Jones Theater, and “The Marshall at that time …”

To be fair, we should mention when it’s done right: the Wet Mountain Tribune spells “marshal” the proper way, with only one l.

The marshall misspelling is rather common, throughout the country, so we can’t really blame it on Marshall Pass (named for its discoverer, Lt. William L. Marshall of the Wheeler Survey of 1873).

But Marshall is a relatively common name, first or last, and maybe that explains it.

A related misuse, also far too frequent, is confusing marshal with sheriff. A sheriff is a county officer. Marshals are not county officials. They are either federal or municipal — the peace officer in a town with only one cop is usually the marshal, and there’s no such thing as a “town sheriff.”

Marshal is the highest military rank in some countries, but not the U.S. That’s because America’s first five-star officer, George Catlett Marshall, commissioned in 1944, understandably preferred General of the Army Marshall to Marshal Marshall.

Parades sometimes have grand marshals, and there’s also a verb, to marshal, roughly synonymous with “mobilize” or “organize,” as in “marshaling one’s resources.”

To add to the confusion, there’s the homonym martial, from the Roman war god Mars. It implies a military connection, as with court martial or martial arts.

Ogden Nash once wrote a short, witty poem about the one-l lama, a priest, and the two-l llama, a beast. We could try something similar:

A one-l marshal, he’s a cop, A two-l Marshall, he is not.