[Ads-l] "false-flag job" (1979)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 16 19:46:21 UTC 2021

OED3, in a 2018 update, added an entry for "false flag," with sense 2
defined as:

"Chiefly attributive. An event or action (typically political or military
in nature) secretly orchestrated by someone other than the person or
organization that appears to be responsible for it. Frequently in 'false
flag operation.'"

The earliest cite for the sense is from 1982, from congressional testimony
by Robert Moss about "false flag operations." Merrill Perlman found "'false
flag' arrangements" in the New York Times from 1980:


Earlier still, in 1979 Noel Hynds published a spy thriller called "False
Flags," which includes several references to "false-flag jobs" (as well as
"false-flag cover"):

p. 14:
"Some sort of false-flag job," he said. "A good one."
She hesitated and frowned. "That's spook talk, Bobby. What's it mean? False
"It means someone is made to look like he's working for one country when
actually he's in the employ of another."
p. 140:
"If you're as good as I give you credit for," Mason snorted, "you can whip
up a false-flag job for me in no time. Right?"
p. 142:
The passport today was Canadian, in the name of Michael Tully, provided by
Fahrar and dropped in his pocket at the Silver Lion two days before Bill's
departure. Later that evening Mason had examined it well. An excellent
false-flag cover, a cleansing nationality, the universally welcome red
maple leaf.
p. 223:
"It was a setup. We both fell for it." Bill Mason rose anxiously from his
chair. "Auerbach, old man, it finally dawned on me. It's another false flag
job. We're not dealing with Russians."
p. 229:
"It has all the traditional trappings of an old-line North African network;
the Ruskies and their little brown brothers. Too much so, Auerbach. It's a
false flag job. Vassiliev works for someone else."


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list