"weapons-grade" -- another figurative use, plus "heart"

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Fri Jan 18 16:27:57 UTC 2002

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Erin McKean
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2002 7:11 AM
Subject: "weapons-grade" -- another figurative use, plus "heart"

>The Chicago Tribune had as a headline in the Tempo section
>on Wednesday the phrase "weapons-grade charisma" (in a
>story about Elvis impersonators).

Just a note on "weapons-grade." Having spent 1985-98 as an Army chemical
officer and arms control negotiator for the Pentagon, I never heard the term
"weapons-grade" applied to biological or chemical agents until journalists
did so during the recent anthrax crisis. The term was used solely as in the
OED2 definition, i.e., applied to fissile (nuclear) material.

As for the figurative use, "Weapons-grade salsa" actually makes more sense
associated with nuclear rather than biological material, which is also quite
literally "hot." Our group in the Pentagon referred to salsa as being either
"Schedule 1, 2, or 3," a reference to classes of chemicals in the Chemical
Weapons Convention (Schedule 1 being the hottest/most lethal). But I am sure
that was a local use and not adopted outside our small circle.

"Weaponize" was commonly used for biological agents, less so for chemical
(probably because that isn't such a daunting technical challenge and
therefore not much of an issue). I don't recall it ever being used for
nuclear material, where "enrich" is the common term. The sense is a bit
vague, but it meant putting the agent in a device for effective
dissemination. It did not mean, as the journalists tended to use it,
treating the agent so that it was more virulent, of the proper particle
size, etc. Although those steps could be part of "weaponization," that
process wasn't complete until the complete weapon was ready for use.

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