Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > Rank and File.

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E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Rank and File.
Soldiers of any grade below that of lance-srgeant 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.   1

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