soldier = sailor

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Feb 4 17:23:40 UTC 2010

There are different levels of error in "fighter plane" (referring to any
combat aircraft) and "fighter sub."

"Fighter" is the jargon term for a class of aircraft, it is not a jargon
term for a class of submarine. The term the movie critic should have used is
"attack sub," or perhaps "fighting sub."

>From the use of "fighter sub" I would not say that this movie critic had
"professional-level skills," at least not in writing about naval subjects.
The use of the term, in fact, displays remarkable ignorance of the subject
matter. That said, I've seen many uses of "soldier" to mean "service
member," "warrior," or "warfighter," subsuming sailors in its definition,
but usually in email, conversational speech, or other non-editorial contexts
and generally not in published writing.

Also the CNN error is more understandable in that as years have gone by,
fighter aircraft have taken on more and more of the bombing or ground-attack
role. "Attack aircraft" (i.e., light bombers) have largely disappeared from
the American military arsenal, replaced by multi-purpose fighters. (Case in
point: the F-117 Stealth Fighter, which is designed for bombing, not
air-to-air combat.) In the USAF and USN today, the two classes of combat
aircraft are intercontinental-range strategic bombers and fighters (with a
few older attack aircraft still hanging on). The CNN error is more akin to
calling a "howitzer" a "gun" or "shell fragments" being called "shrapnel,"
although not nearly as technically nitpicky.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Thursday, February 04, 2010 8:37 AM
Subject: soldier = sailor

Weve already discussed whether or when marines are ever soldiers.  But the
following ex., obviously written by someone with professional-level
skills, shows that "soldier" now subsumes sailors too, at least for some

2007 _Moviefone_ []:
German director Wolfgang Petersen's U-boat drama realistically captures the
claustrophobia and uncertainty of a fighter sub and portrays the German
soldiers as real people, not Aryan monsters.

Perhaps, as skeptics will chuckle, this is merely a slip. Maybe. But if so,
it is a bizarre slip IMO. The writer obviously knows what the movie is

Consider too the peculiar phrase "fighter sub." That supports the idea that
the writer is not very familiar with even everyday military/naval usage, at
least as little boys grew up learning it in the '50s.  I've heard Fox News
refer to all combat aircraft as "fighter planes."

(If you don't understand my point, you may be proving it.)

The explanation (if one is needed) may be that over the past couple of
decades, all members of the armed forces have come to be described in
journalism as "warriors" generally. (There are several reasons for this.)
But if "warrior" can subsume "sailor," why can't "soldier"?

Inglish. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.


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

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