chemical bomb

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 23 03:25:08 UTC 2009

I've come across several news stories, in the last 48 hours, that
contain a reference to "chemical bombs", as in,

    "The undiscovered chemical bombs are the heard of an ongoing terror
investigation." (Birmingham Star, 23 Sept 2009)

I have a number of usage questions in connection with this sentence. For
one, "terror investigation" is not an investigation of "terror", but the
shorthand has been in use for some time. The words "terror", "terrorist"
and "terrorism" have been virtually interchangeable in the press.

Second, there is the "undiscovered". Does that mean "not yet
discovered", "possibly existing" or "nonexistent"?

And, finally, there is the "chemical bomb". The phrase traditionally
refers to a bomb that disperses a chemical agent--a type of chemical
weapon that explodes.  But that's not the use here. In fact, the
language confusion has led some news organization to actually interpret
the current "terror investigation" as dealing with potential chemical
weapons--like the ones that were released by a suicidal cult in Japan.
But the actual use here is "a bomb made up of common chemicals", as
opposed to, say, a military-type explosive. Never mind that this makes
no sense (most bombs are made up of an enclosed mixture of a handful of
chemicals, combined with either electric or percussion detonator). It
may be time to open up the dictionaries for new definitions.


The American Dialect Society -

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