"collateral damage"

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Oct 6 01:55:06 UTC 2011

It depends on what you mean by "unintentional." If a strike against a
military target is expected to generate civilian casualties as a
consequence, then those casualties are still "collateral." The intention is
to destroy the target knowing that civilians will be killed in the process.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2011 9:14 PM
Subject: "collateral damage"

PBS asks in a promo for a forthcoming show:

"How much collateral damage in wartime is intentional?"

Noteworthy because "collateral damage" here means "civilian casualties
without qualification." (Actual "collateral damage" is, by definition,
unintentional - unless "intentional" is oddly broadened to include
"unavoidable"; moreover,  the phrase is used as though it were rhetorically
neutral - which, when it has borne this simplistic meaning in the past (as a
factitious "cynical Pentagon euphemism"), it was not. There was no "ironic'
inflection in the announcer's voice.

Cf. the somewhat comparable career of "ethnic cleansing," discussed here
some time back.


The program will reveal how a group of Bosnian women "changed the rules of
war forever."


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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