I recently stumbled a couple of times upon the expression "posse of pips", and right now, I hardly have a clue of what that may mean. Could it have anything to do with games, or assets? I'm in the dark here, and any piece of enlightenment would be greatly appreciated!


EDIT : added two quotes: a) from a British Army-themed forum:

If only some form of referendum was used (not to make decisions but to gauge Corps feeling). Thats what the visits of big-knobs used to be for. To see what the man on the ground thought. Now it seems big-knobs turn up at the end of a weeks worth of pushing brooms and cleaning stuff to have a very stage managed beer in the mess with a posse of pips and crowns giving everyone that "You move off the party line and I'm going to finish your career" look before they're whisked off to the Posh Boys Mess.

b) from an Western-themed interactive fiction:

You bring along some extra help with these Tests and Challenges in the form of your Posse-O’-Pips. The Posse-O’-Pips represent extra six sided dice you can spend in addition to your "free" die, where Lady Luck rides shotgun! You may spend these extra dice at any time you are asked to make a Test or Challenge. You do not have to, of course, you might want to save them for what you consider really important checks. The Posse-O’-Pips represent an edge you have in a particular situation and could take the form of something useful you possess, perhaps you have knowledge or experience in the current circumstances you find yourself in or maybe you just have a burst of adrenalin, confidence or motivation to get you through.

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    Welcome to ELL, Benoit. It would help us a lot if you could provide an example of this expression. Please edit your question to add a sentence that uses it, and a link to a document where you found it.
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 8 '20 at 10:35
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    Without a context, it means absolutely nothing.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 8 '20 at 10:51
  • You're right - sorry about the lack of context. I edited the question with two quotes. Hope they help! Sep 8 '20 at 11:14
  • The pips are the dots on a six-sided die, usually numbering from one to six. The second quote states "The Posse-O’-Pips represent extra six sided dice you can spend" - does this not answer your question?
    – Davo
    Sep 8 '20 at 14:28
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    @Davo: Well, the second quote explains the meaning that that specific text gives to the expression. However, since the expression seemed to be used in other contexts, I wanted to know if it had a generic definition. Sep 8 '20 at 14:59

A posse was originally a group of (usually) men in the 19th Century USA Wild West recruited by a sheriff (law enforcement officer) to hunt lawbreakers. Informally it means a group of people with a common purpose, and even more informally, a group of people or things.

The first extract is British or British Commonwealth Army related. Officer ranks are denoted by insignia worn on the uniform. Ranks below Major-General use combinations of various heraldic stars (of the Order of the Bath, the Thistle or the Shamrock, depending on regiment) and the royal crown. A star is known informally as a "pip". A Captain has three pips, a Lieutenant-Colonel has one pip and a crown. A "posse of pips and crowns" is a somewhat disparaging Army way of referring to a group of officers brought together for some purpose.

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The second extract refers to gaming dice (plural, singular die) which have different numbers of dots ("pips") on each face. A "Posse-o'-Pips" is a way of talking about a collection of gaming points.

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  • I was under the impression that some British officers wore Thistle or Shamrock Stars instead of Bath Stars, depending on the unit.
    – Davo
    Sep 8 '20 at 16:45
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    @Davo. Yes. The Scots Guards use the Thistle Star and the Irish Guards the Shamrock. Sep 8 '20 at 16:51
  • I would add that pips and crowns specifically indicate that the officers are the mid-ranking and junior officers, stage-managing the senior officers' visit to the soldiers' (non-officers') mess.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 8 '20 at 19:13
  • Are Brigadiers mid-ranking? Sep 8 '20 at 19:17
  • If you take "pips and crowns" as a unit, that would restrict the posse to lieutenant-colonels, colonels, and brigadiers. Sep 8 '20 at 19:19

"Pips" and "crowns" are decorations worn on a military uniform to denote rank, similar to an insignia.

In the British army, a Lieutenant has two pips and a Captain has three pips. At the rank of Major, the insignia is a single St. Edward's Crown, while a Lieutenant Colonel has one crown and one pip. A Colonel has a crown and two pips and a Brigadier has a crown and three pips.

"A posse of pips and crowns" therefore means a group of high-ranking army men.

  • 'High-ranking' is misleading – if they have only pips and crowns, they are junior-to-mid-ranking officers (in the British system, commissioned officer ranks are separate to other ranks, so while a Second Lieutenant is a commissioned officer and therefore outranks any non-commissioned officer, they are nevertheless very junior.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 8 '20 at 19:11
  • In practice a senior NCO may well tell a junior officer what to do. Occupants of the recently introduced Sergeant Major of the Army role are Warrant Officer Grade 1s who also hold a captain or major's commission which is held in abeyance. I read about a captain appointed to command an SAS squadron. It was some months before the squadron sergeant would let him take command. Sep 8 '20 at 19:38

I think the point is that, instead of meeting ordinary soldiers (i.e. the men on the ground) they instead are introduced to lower-ranking officers. These officers will want to paint a better picture of conditions than may actually be true for their underlings. They will also be less constrained by daily discipline and drill and will be more aware of the political situation of the times.


Interestingly it seems these are two independent constructions: a posse of X (which is a common enough construction). In this case X begins with p for alliteration. It is possible this alliteration inspired the use of the word posse in the first place. (If you had opposums visiting the mess they would likely also be described as a posse of opposums). So it is "posse of [pips]" and "posse of [pips and crowns]". So no, 'posse of pips' is not a phrase in its own right.

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