Point man

Point man

Point Man is an American English term used to refer to a soldier who is assigned to a position some distance ahead of a patrol as a lookout, or to a man who leads or inspires others in a business or political role.


The term might be related to the Middle English phrase "in point", which meant "in immediate danger or peril"http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20001017 The Mavens' Word of the Day: point man] , however, the modern use of the term derives from military tactics. During a military patrol or infantry operation, the point man walks several meters out in front of everyone else and is likely to be the first one to encounter enemy soldiers. It is a hazardous position that requires alertness and ability to deal with unexpected attacks.

The term was used in the 19th century American Old West when the lead cowboy at the front of a herd of cattle was known as the pointer or point man. It may have come into common use because many of the cowboys in the late 1800s were veterans of the American Civil War. In cavalry terminology, the men scouting ahead of the main force were said to be "riding point". This use was first recorded in 1903.

The concept seems to have been introduced to the American military at West Point by Professor Dennis H. Mahan, who taught most of the top officers on both sides in the Civil War. In his "Elementary Treatise on Advanced-Guard, Out-Post and Detachment Service of Troops (1861)", he discussed the use of the column or V-shaped advance guard by the Greeks and Romans:

"Among the orders of battles among the ancients, that known as the wedge, or boar's head, is the most celebrated. In this disposition, the point, or head, is formed of a subdivision of the phalanx of greater or less strength, according to circumstances; this being supported by two, three, and four subdivisions of the same force, one behind another."

In the section on "Advanced Guards and Advanced Posts", Professor Mahan introduced the definition of the point man to the future American generals:

"From these indications of the manner of distributing the troops of the advanced-guard, the following general dispositions, adapted to ordinary circumstances of locality may be gathered. The apex, or most advanced point, may be formed of a staff, or other intelligent officer, under the escort of a few horsemen..."

More recently (possibly originating from the late 1960s), the term has been extended to describe someone at the forefront of an issue. It can be used to refer to both the defender or the attacker of the position or idea. This use is most often used in a political context, as the point man is usually in the public eye.


*In (American) politics it refers to someone leading the defense of a political position.
*In the commission of crime, usually a robbery, a "point man" is the lookout who stands guard.
*Gun dogs and hunting dogs, such as the pointing breed, "makes/comes to a point" by standing rigid and facing the game.
*In ice hockey the point man is the defence man on the blue line of the offensive position in the "attacking zone"; in basketball the point guard directs the team's offense in the front court.


External links

* [http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20001017 Random House Word of the Day Entry on point man]
* [http://www.usregulars.com/mahan01.html Elementary Treatise on Advanced-Guard, Out-Post and Detachment Service of Troops (1861)]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Point man — n.; pl. { men} ( men). 1. (Mil.) the lead soldier in a foot patrol under combat conditions. [PJC] 2. a person who takes a conspicuous public position in proposing a new idea or initiating a new policy, who may become a target of criticism for th …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • point man — n AmE 1.) [singular] someone with a very important job or a lot of responsibility for a particular subject in a company or organization point man on ▪ the administration s point man on health care 2.) a soldier who goes ahead of a group to see if …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • point man — one who leads a military patrol in formation in a jungle, etc., 1944, from POINT (Cf. point) (n.) in military sense of small leading party of an advance guard (1580s) …   Etymology dictionary

  • point man — point ,man noun count AMERICAN 1. ) a soldier sent ahead of others to make certain it is safe for them to continue in that direction 2. ) someone who tries to prevent problems by acting or thinking before others …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • point man — point′ man n. 1) mil the lead soldier of an infantry patrol 2) cvb a person in the forefront of an economic or political issue …   From formal English to slang

  • point man — n. 1. the soldier in the front position in a patrol 2. anyone in the forefront of an activity; esp., someone leading an attack on or a movement in support of some proposed program, as in politics …   English World dictionary

  • point man — noun 1. someone who is the forefront of an important enterprise he is the president s point man on economic issues • Hypernyms: ↑leader 2. a soldier who goes ahead of a patrol • Hypernyms: ↑soldier * * * I. noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • point man — 1. n. a ballplayer who habitually scores points. □ Fred is supposed to be point man for our team, but tonight he is not doing so well. □ Paul is our favorite point man. 2. n. anyone whose job it is to score successes against the opposition. □ The …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • point man — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms point man : singular point man plural point men American someone who tries to prevent problems …   English dictionary

  • point man — noun Date: 1944 1. a soldier who goes ahead of a patrol 2. one who is in the forefront; especially a principal spokesman or advocate < the point man for the President s economic policy > …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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