Washington Post, Them's Fightin' Words: War Lingo Rushes to the Front

Jewls2u Jewls2u at WHIDBEY.COM
Wed Nov 14 15:43:32 UTC 2001

>HOWEVER, I cannot recall a
>single instance of a military officer being >QUOTED as using the term
>"collateral damage", which leads me to the >.suspicion that the military
>not use that euphemism and what we have here >is an urban legend among

In the field of public relations, "collateral material" is marketing
materials...press releases, flyers, brochures, save-the-date cards, little
stands you see on tables at trade shows and conferences and the like. It's
not inconceivable a PR person somewhere coined the term "collateral damage"
as a reference to any wartime event which risked to decrease the popularity
of the military action. While we understand it to mean civilian casualties
now, it may have started out to include things like missed targets and
bombing religious sights.

Often times news gathering organizations are very short handed and will take
a press release, written in the form of an article, and just drop it into
the news hole (the hole in the paper left after the advertising space has
been sold). Although you might not hear the term "collateral damage" from
any official source, it could have come from the horse's mouthpiece.

PIO, Art and Sol Productions
-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of James A. Landau
Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2001 5:32 PM
Subject: Re: Washington Post, Them's Fightin' Words: War Lingo Rushes to
the Front

In a message dated 11/12/2001 9:34:07 AM Eastern Standard Time,
drew.danielson at CMU.EDU writes:

> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5866-2001Nov10.html

which includes the following:

Them's Fightin' Words: War Lingo Rushes to the Front

By Ken Ringle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2001; Page C01

In his 1975 landmark cultural study, "The Great War and Modern Memory," Paul
Fussell notes that the idioms of the English language were considerably more
peaceful before World War I. It was the immersion of an entire generation of
literate civilians in the hell of the western front, he says, that ushered
into the civilian vocabulary such images as being "shell-shocked" by a
"barrage" of complaints in a political or economic "no man's land."
Military jargon remained largely the province of a professional military
class until the mass conscription of the Great War. Then we began speaking
being "torpedoed" by some "crummy" (meaning full of trench lice or "lousy")
event, and began referring to the "rank and file" and to "platoons" and
"sectors" in civilian life.

I, on the contrary, suspect that most wars cause military jargon to enter
civilian jargon.  In English, for example:

The French and Indian War/Seven Years War (which lasted 10 years in North
America) popularized "ranger" (from the fame of Rogers' Rangers, and Rogers,
by the way, was the first person to write down the name "Oregon") and
introduced "Pontiac" and "Black Hole of Calcutta".

The Revolutionary War popularized "cowboy", introduced "Minuteman",  gave
meanings to "Patriot" and "Tory" (the latter in the United States only.  In
Canada the term is "Loyalist".  Imagine a Canadian battery in the Persian
Gulf gallantly shooting down Scuds with their Loyalist missiles), and
introduced "Benedict Arnold" as a metaphor.

The Napoleonic Wars gave us "Napoleonic" (of course) plus "quickstep/quick
time", "shrapnel", "Rosetta Stone", several terms that include "Wellington",
and that Waterloo of metaphors, "Waterloo".  The war also popularized
future car name, "corvette".

The Crimean War gave us "Red Cross" and an unexpected word, "cardigan".

The US Civil War (Great Rebellion, War Between the States, etc.) popularized
"bummer", "gunboat", and "sharpshooter" and introduced "ironclad",
"greenback", "puptent", "Gatling gun", and "chief of staff".  It also gave
new meanings to "contraband" (an escaped slave), "rebel", and "Confederate"
and produced the metaphor "Confederate money."  Finally, the Civil War
indirectly produced "Ku Klux Klan", whose name is probably derived from the
sound made by cocking the Springfield and Enfield rifles that were the main
rifles used in the war.  ("Ku Klux Klan" is therefore fake Greek for
"Brotherhood of the Cocked Rifle").

"Machine gun" is a joint product of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian

I should also mention the dubious legend that "gringo" comes from "Green
the Lilacs", allegedly the marching song of US troops in the Mexican War.
more likely theory is that it is derived from "griego" ("Greek"), resembling
English 'is all Greek to me".


It's as if our whole center of gravity has been impacted by a bunker-buster
and suffered collateral damage. <snip> Such terms as "plausible
"collateral damage" and "friendly fire" entered civilian discourse half a
world away from the [Vietnam] war  </quote>

I seem to recall that the word "deniability" was used frequently in
discussions of the U-2 that was shot down over Russia back in 1960, well
before the Vietnam War.

On the other hand, I do not recall ever hearing "collateral damage" (which
always sounds to me like a description of a bomb hitting the storeroom of a
pawnshop) until the Gulf War, specifically during the "Desert Shield"
to the war, when reporters gleefully (or so it seemed) informed us that the
military used "collateral damage" to mean "civilian casualties."  I recently
read _War in the Time of Peace_ by David Halberstam (a civilian)a, who uses
"collateral damage" freely, without definition.  I have also heard there is
an Arnold Schwartzeneger movie coming out with that title (considering the
only two Schwartzeneger movies I have ever seen have been "Twins" and
"Junior", I can't imagine what it will be about).  HOWEVER, I cannot recall
single instance of a military officer being QUOTED as using the term
"collateral damage", which leads me to the suspicion that the military does
not use that euphemism and what we have here is an urban legend among
reporters, each one quoting the previous without bothering to think whether
they have actually heard military using the term.  Comments?

                    - Jim Landau

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