War Words Part Deux

Last month, we featured various military terms that were likely to be on the news. Of course, predictions are not perfect. There are host of jargon and slang terms that have cropped up in the reporting on the war in Iraq. Here are some that we missed last month. Not all of these are relevant to or used in the current conflict. Some are historical, evoked by recent events.

Airhead, n., fortified position behind enemy lines established by troops landed and reinforced by air, 1944. Cf. beachhead, bridgehead.

Appeasement, n., the action of pacifying or assuaging a belligerent or potential belligerent. The verb to appease has been in use since 1330. Modern political use dates to 1919 and is most often associated with the 1938 Munich conference where British Prime Minister Chamberlain made concessions to Hitler. Since 1938, the term has carried disparaging connotations. From the Old French apaisement, apeisement.

Asymmetric warfare, n., military jargon for unconventional attacks against a technologically superior military force. From 1997.

Beachhead, n., fortified position established by troops landed and reinforced by sea, 1940. Cf. airhead, bridgehead.

Blue on blue, adj., military jargon term for friendly fire, from the US military practice of depicting friendly forces with blue graphics on maps and enemy forces as red graphics.

Body bag, n., a zippered, rubber bag used for the transportation of corpses. 1954.

Body count, n., the number of enemy killed by friendly forces in a battle, esp. referring to the practice during the Vietnam war of judging success by the number of enemy killed. From 1965.

Brainwashing, n., the elimination of political unacceptable ideas from the mind of a prisoner or dissident. 1950.

Break china, v.phr., to cause collateral damage. 2003.

Bridgehead, n., a fortified position defending one end of a bridge, fortified position on the bank of a body of water that is established and reinforced by a landing force, 1812. Cf. airhead, beachhead.

Briefing, n., a formal presentation of information or instructions. In sporadic use since 1910, the term came into widespread use during WWII because of its use to denote pre-mission conferences among pilots. From the legal sense of brief, meaning a summary or abstract of an argument.

Bunker buster, n., a bomb specifically designed to destroy underground bunkers, 1991. Cf. blockbuster.

Catastrophic success, n., success so complete and swift that unintended, negative consequences result, e.g, “the dog who caught the car.” 1997.

Coalition, n., an impermanent alliance, from the Latin coalitionem. In English use since 1715.

Combat fatigue, n., psychological disturbance caused by prolonged exposure to combat. From 1943. Also battle fatigue. Cf. shell shock, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Contact point, n., location where two or more units are required to make contact. A hot contact point is where a unit meets an enemy unit.

Dead-ender, n., one who has no choice but to fight to the death, coined by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001 in reference to Taliban loyalists. Cf. bitter-ender. In use from 1993 to mean one who is not accomplishing anything in life, e.g., a drug addict.

Dear John, n., a letter or other correspondence from a woman that ends a romantic relationship, esp. such a letter sent to a soldier overseas. From the traditional opening of such a letter. In use since 1942. Dear Jane often denotes such a letter to a woman.

Decapitation, n., a military attack designed to destroy the political leadership of a country at the start of a war. From Cold War nuclear targeting jargon.

Deconflict, v., to coordinate to ensure friendly units do not interfere with one another, esp. to deconflict airspace or deconflict fires.

Demilitarized zone, n., a region between belligerent parties in which it is mutually agreed that no military forces may be deployed. From 1934. Also, DMZ.

Embedded, adj., referring to a journalist assigned to a particular military unit. 1995.

Failsafe, adj., referring to a system, esp. a system involving nuclear weapons, that will revert to a condition of no danger in case of failure. From 1948. First used in reference to aircraft design. Applied to nuclear weapons by 1958.

Fix, v., to hold an enemy in place with fire and maneuver until more powerful forces can be brought to bear to destroy them. 1991. Intransitive use meaning to take a defensive position dates to the 17th century.

Fog of war, n., uncertainty and confusion that is inherently part of battle. Often mistakenly attributed to Clausewitz, who instead uses friction to denote the concept.

Force multiplier, n., military jargon for a factor that increases combat effectiveness without additional troops, such as intelligence or night-vision equipment.

Friendly fire, n., ordnance accidentally directed at one’s own troops. The adjective friendly to describe one’s own forces and fires dates to WWI. The specific phrase friendly fire dates to 1976. Also known as fratricide, a term used in this sense since the early 1980s.

Go kinetic, v., to open fire on the enemy.

Granularity, n., a quality of information that makes it sufficiently detailed to be useful for the intended purpose.

Hearts and minds, n., political support for a war and a regime, phrase coined during the Vietnam War to denote a policy attempting to cultivate support for the Saigon regime among the South Vietnamese people. Since then, the term has often been used with a connotation of a failed policy.

Hotline, n., a dedicated communications link that is always connected, or “hot,” especially the link established between Washington and Moscow in 1963. The term is military jargon from 1955.

Human shield, n., a civilian used to deter an attack on a military target. From at least 1990.

Jarhead, n., a disparaging term for a US marine, this sense dates to WWII. From an older sense of the term meaning a stupid or foolish person or a mule, similar to jughead, 1918.

Kinetic targeting, n., the dropping of bombs, as opposed to soft targeting or the dropping of leaflets or humanitarian supplies.

Liberate, v., to free an occupied territory via military force. From WWII.

Light at the end of the tunnel, c.phr., a favorable ending to a long ordeal, often associated with false hopes for success in the Vietnam war, but the imagery has been in use since the 19th century.

Mother of all ____, c.phr., indicating biggest or otherwise superlative example of a thing, usually facetiously, after Saddam Hussein’s description of the upcoming ground battle in the first Gulf War as the “mother of all battles.”

Mousehole, n. & v., a hole knocked in the walls of a building to enable soldiers to move from room to room or into connecting buildings without exposing themselves to observation. To create or move through such a passage. c.1950.

No man’s land, n., the territory between two entrenched armies. From 1908, but commonly associated with WWI. From an earlier sense of the phrase meaning unowned or waste land.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, n., psychological disturbance caused by exposure to stressful situations, such as combat, 1973. Cf. shell shock, combat fatigue.

Preemptive, adj., referring to military action initiated to counter an imminent enemy attack. From 1959.

Preventive, adj., referring to military action initiated to keep a future threat from coming to fruition. From 1955.

Red line, n., a figurative trip wire, the crossing of which will trigger some response, 1989.

Regime change, n., US policy of using political and military resources to topple Saddam Hussein’s government of Iraq. From 1998.

Regime target, n., infrastructure used by the highest levels of the Iraqi regime, including presidential palaces, security service and intelligence headquarters, command bunkers.

Rules of engagement, n., directives delineating the circumstances and limitations under which military forces will initiate or continue combat against an opposing force.

SALT, abbrev., acronym for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks/Treaty, a series of arms control negotiations between the US and Soviet Union. From 1968.

Sensitive site exploitation, n., process of examining locations suspected of containing weapons of mass destruction, also SSE.

Shell shock, n., psychological disturbance caused by prolonged exposure to combat, 1915. Cf. combat fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Shock and awe, n., sudden, synchronous, and overwhelming application of military force against an adversary to paralyze its will to carry on. Coined by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade in a 1996 book of that title.

START, abbrev., acronym for Strategic Arms Reduction Talks/Treaty, a series of arms control negotiations between the US and Soviet Union. From 1981.

Strike package, n., the aircraft and ordnance involved in a bombing raid, includes fighters, tankers, reconnaissance and early warning radar aircraft. 1991.

Terror bombing, n., intensive and indiscriminate bombing intended to frighten a country into capitulation. From 1941.

Unilateral, adj., referring to a war correspondent who is covering the conflict without official sanction by one of the belligerent parties. From 1990.

Vertical envelopment, n., a military maneuver where troops are air-dropped or air-landed to the rear or flanks of the enemy.

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