Fighting Words


The Village Voice's Cynthia Cotts provides a handy, pointed glossary of official and unofficial euphemisms being used to discuss the war:

"The liberation of Iraq was seen as a cakewalk, but encounters with death squads led to an operational pause." That kind of opaque military jargon is now infiltrating the media war coverage. Like fog or white noise, the dead language of bureaucrats drowns out the emotion and details that belong in any credible picture of war.

…Herewith a glossary of war euphemisms, plus some slang terms that tag along.

Entries range from "asymmetric warfare" to "kill box" to "weapons of mass destruction a/k/a WMD."

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  1. How ironic; I have written several Reason staff members about what I feel may be biased reporting, and here I was about to make a wry remark about the Village piece. Sheesh.

    I was going to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the Village Voice article; it’s even funny in a couple of places. Yes, there are a couple of cheap shots (“And how can news execs be assured of getting access to battle scenes if they offer an honest critique of the war?” comes to mind), but I have to say I think it was a fairly balanced article. Very well balanced, considering the source. 🙂

    Some favorite quotes:
    “Fedayeen: Irregular Iraqi troops with previous experience killing dissidents and prostitutes.”

    A shout out to the ‘Devil Docs’, the “Navy doctors who treat all wounded on the battlefield, including Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The docs say they give priority to people with the worst injuries, regardless of which side they’re on.”

    And “Incestuous amplification: A wartime condition that occurs when policy makers listen only to people who share their set beliefs, increasing the risk for miscalculation. See ‘cakewalk.'”

  2. “Incestuous amplification” also sounds like a good description of the way people in the media work each other up into a lather over events and non-events alike.

    Whether or not there has been an actual ‘miscalculation’ in the war strategy is an open question, but I have no doubt that 20 years from now we’ll be hearing from future isolationists and anti-war types about the “early strategic miscalculations” in the Iraq war, no matter what happens in the next few weeks, and no matter what historians might learn in the coming years.

  3. Well, Doug, I’m certainly comforted that we have the will to invade another country located halfway around the world based on what they “might” do. I’m sleeping better already.

  4. In an otherwise excrutiating segment on an NPR program, I heard one expert in language may a useful point about military jargon: it is not primarily a creation of careful, thoughful planning and a conscious manipulation of language to achieve political objectives. it is, rather, the creation of a mostly organic process, a sort of “spontaneous order” arising from bureaucracies butting heads, reports floating to the surface and then disappearing, and the natural tendency for human beings to find euphemisms when talking about killing other human beings. This is NOT an indictment, however, as killing bad guys happens to be one of the few legitimate functions of government in a free society.

  5. How about “smart sanctions?”

  6. Some of it seemed biased and dumb to me, e.g.:

    Decapitation strike: Bombs aimed at Hussein in the first hours of war, in a failed attempt to kill him. At press time, Hussein’s status remains unknown.

    Uh, then how do you know it failed?

  7. FUBAR. Needs editing by Ambrose Bierce.

  8. “Like fog or white noise, the dead language of bureaucrats drowns out the emotion and details that belong in any credible picture of war. ”

    Perhaps I’m being naive, but I don’t expect emotion from news reports. I expect who, what, where, when, and perhaps a why (although that seems to be where emotion comes in).

    If anything, I see overly emotional reporting as destructive to public discourse since it can hide facts.

  9. And behind this nefarious screen of phrases, the fact that people are dying is completely hidden from the public, all of whom are idiots, except those who write for the Voice.

    What a bore, is this what passes for a cutting critique these days?

    n. A writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a tempest of words.

  11. Reply to Lefty:


  12. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/21/2004 06:41:26
    Truth is a kind and gentle lie.

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