soldier = sailor

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 4 18:53:40 UTC 2010

I agree with the distinction of "errors" between "fighter plane" and
"fighter sub", but I am not sure the former is, stricktly speaking, an
error. If it is, it must be rather pervasive.

Consider the first line of the Wiki article for "strike fighter":

"A strike fighter is an American designation for a Fighter-bomber. A
multi-role capable combat aircraft set up to operate primarily in the
tactical bombing role. In the UK, the strike role refers to that of an
aircraft delivering nuclear payloads."

For one, aside from the traditional strategic bombers that carry
massive nuclear payloads, the majority of contemporary aircraft are
designed for fighting capacity--hence the F designation. Here, Wiki on
F-117 also helps directly:

"The operational aircraft had the official designation of
"F-117A".[24] Most modern U.S. military aircraft use post-1962
designations in which the designation "F" is usually an air-to-air
fighter, "B" is usually a bomber, "A" is usually a ground-attack
aircraft, etc. (Examples include the F-15, the B-2, and the A-6.) The
F-117 is primarily a ground-attack aircraft so its "F" designation is

The same cannot be said about F-22 (just discontinued, having
initially replaced F-117 and F-117A, and leaving the official FB-22
designation in mothballs) and F-35 (mired in delays and budget
overruns, but intended to replace F-22)--these are considered
combination aircraft or what the British military routinely designates
as FB (in contrast with G or GR for "ground attack"). Given the lack
of the B designation (e.g., B-1 and B-2) for most current military
aircraft, the error is understandable. And the jargon for these seems
to be "fighter", as "fighter-bomber" is more unwieldy and just
"bomber" slowly slips into oblivion.

The use of "fighter" for sub is, of course, non-standard. But to refer
to the U-boat in question as "attack sub" would also be contrary to
current practice--like British use of "attack" and "strike" in
reference to aircraft, from I've been able to tell, "attack sub"
refers to the larger contemporary subs that are capable of carrying
nuclear payloads, not merely to any sub that's capable of a torpedo
attack. Come to think of it, the English-speaker practice of refering
only to German WWI and WWII submarines as U-boats is just as silly as
calling them "fighter subs"--AFAIK U-boot is the generic German term
for all submarines. On the other hand, the term might be a bit more
than a calque--the WWI and WWII subs were all designated U-##, so the
name might have been derived from that rather than from the German
term. I suppose, we'll never know.

This leads to an interesting terminological error in the 2000 film
U-571. The US sub crew distinguishes between "U-boats" and the German
"supply sub" that brings engine parts to the disabled U-571. At no
time in the film is the "supply sub" referred to as a "U-boat". Of
course, the entire film is completely ahistorical, as the plot is
closer to the *British* capture of the U-110 in 1941 and not to the
*US Navy* capture of U-505 in 1944. (U-571 was sunk with all hands in
1944 and was never captured.)


On Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 12:23 PM, Dave Wilton <dave at> wrote:
> 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.

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