"collateral damage"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 10 12:46:05 UTC 2009

Certainly the phrase came to linguistic attention only in 1991.  ISTR a news
conference at which a press officer initially described civilian deaths as
"possible collateral damage" - not necessarily to dismiss them (an
investigation was underway) but to sound "objective and professional."

I believe the term's notoriety stems from that incident.

On Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 11:26 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at wilton.net> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dave Wilton <dave at WILTON.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "collateral damage"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This original sense was still in military use in the mid-1980s when I
> trained to be a nuclear target analyst. I never heard "collateral damage"
> discussed in terms of conventional artillery fire planning.
> For destruction of physical things the only factor the nuclear target
> analyst takes into account is the force of the blast. For killing people
> the
> only factor used in planning is prompt radiation (that emitted in the first
> minute after the detonation).
> All other damage, whether from delayed radiation (e.g., fallout,
> neutron-induced gamma radiation), thermal effects (fires and firestorms),
> or
> electromagnetic effects (e.g., electromagnetic plus, radiation effects on
> electronics) is "collateral damage," and not taken into account when
> planning a nuclear strike.
> These other factors are taken into account in calculating the minimum safe
> distance from a "friendly" nuclear detonation though. (The planning tables
> contained a column showing the distance from a detonation that drapes would
> spontaneously ignite; this was a source of much dark humor--although it's
> actually a very useful indicator of extent of damage expected from
> secondary
> fires.)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of
> Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Wednesday, September 09, 2009 6:54 PM
> Subject: "collateral damage"
> I can't be categorical about this, but an examination of Google Books
> strongly suggests that, as a military idiom, this phrase was first used in
> strategy discussions in the late 1940s referring specifically to the use
> of nuclear weapons. "Collateral damage" was a fairly straightforward phrase
> for any and all death, destruction, short- and long-term damage,
> radioactive
> fallout, etc., beyond the immolation of the immediate target.
> If I read the evidence correctly, the phrase gained wider currency in the
> upper echelons of the military during the Vietnam War and general
> currency only during the Gulf War of 1991.
> JL
> "There You Go Again...Using Reason on the Planet of the Duck-Billed
> Platypus"
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