Word Of The Month: Diplomacy
War is on everyone lips. Will the United States attack Iraq? What is being done to get weapons inspectors back into that country? What is going on at the United Nations Security Council and back in the foreign ministries at capitals around the world? The word of the month for November is:
Diplomacy, n., the conduct of international relations through negotiation, the methods and skills by which this is achieved. From the French diplomatie (pronounced –cie). In English since 1796.
Here we take a look at some of the words associated with diplomacy, what they mean and where they come from.
Accord, n., an international agreement, a treaty. Originally, accord was a label for a treaty covering a minor matter; this distinction no longer applies and the term is used as a full synonym for treaty. From the Old French acord. The diplomatic sense of the word has been in use since 1297.
Aide Mémoire, n., a memorandum summarizing the points a diplomat has made at a meeting. Traditionally, the diplomat leaves an aide mémoire behind as he or she leaves, literally as a written “aid to memory.” From the French. In English use since 1846.
Ambassador, n., title given to the head of a diplomatic mission who is also the personal representative of a head of state. Usually officially titled an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. These additional labels are largely meaningless today. Extraordinary originally meant an ambassador on a special mission, one not permanently residing in the host country. Permanent ambassadors were called Ambassadors Ordinary, but since this implied that they were somehow inferior, there was a title creep and all ambassadors became extraordinary. Similarly, plenipotentiary once meant that the ambassador had the power to negotiate as if he were the head of state. Now it simply means that he has the power to serve as chief of mission. Ambassador has been in English use since c. 1374. Early uses were variants on the Medieval Latin *ambactiātor. The modern word is from the French ambassadeur. Often spelled embassador in the 19th century, particularly by the United States.
Ambassadress, n., the wife of an ambassador. In the past, the term has also been used to denote a female ambassador, but that usage is considered improper today and a female ambassador is properly addressed as ambassador. In use since 1594 for a female ambassador and since 1716 for a wife.
Attaché, n., an aide to an ambassador, a member of the ambassador’s staff. Literally, one attached to the ambassador. From the French. In English use since 1834.
Back channel, n. and adj., an informal and usually secret method for passing information and conducting negotiations that bypasses the official diplomatic channels. Since the early 1970s.
Backstop, n. and v., American term for a policy-making group in Washington that can provide instructions and guidance to missions and delegations overseas. From baseball, a backstop is a fence behind the catcher that prevents a wild pitch or passed ball from going too far. Cf. long-stop, a UK cricket term also used figuratively in the same sense.
Bargaining chip, n., a position taken early in negotiations that one is prepared to concede or trade for agreement on another. The origin is unknown. Usually taken to be a poker reference, but there is no such term or concept in that game. Since 1960.
Belligerency, n., a state of war. From the Latin belligerāntem. In English use since 1863, although belligerent has been around since the 16th century.
Bilateral, adj., denotes diplomacy between two countries, as opposed to multilateral diplomacy (e.g., the United Nations). In diplomatic use since 1802. Also, the word is informally used as a noun to denote a bilateral meeting or agreement, particularly when there is simultaneous multilateral diplomacy on the same subject.
Brinksmanship, n., a negotiating strategy that risks war in order to force the other side to compromise. Adlai Stevenson coined the term in 1956 as a criticism of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s foreign policy. Dulles had previously stated that bringing a negotiating partner to the “brink” was a “necessary art” of the diplomat.
Cable, n., a message giving instructions to a mission or reporting results back to a capital. Diplomats still refer to them as cables regardless of the actual means of communication (often today via satellite or the Internet). Since 1883. A clipping of cablegram, formed in imitation of telegram to denote a message sent by transoceanic cable.
Casus Belli, n., an act justifying a state of war. From the Latin, literally cause for war. In English use since 1849.
Chancery, n., building housing a mission’s offices, especially when separate from the ambassador’s home. It is a worn down form of chancellery, which is still used by some nations, although not by Britain or the United States. In the diplomatic sense since 1561. Use to denote a court of a chancellor, particularly the Lord Chancellor of England, is older. The diplomatic sense derives from these older courts.
Chargé d’Affaires, n., deputy head of a mission, one charged with carrying out diplomacy in the absence of the ambassador. From the French, literally one in charge of affairs. In English use since 1767.
Co-Del, n., US State Department abbreviation for Congressional Delegation, the term for Congresspersons and their staff on visits abroad.
Communiqué, n., a public statement of the results of a diplomatic meeting. Jointly agreed upon, determining the language of a communiqué is often the most time-consuming part of the meeting. From the French. In English use since 1852.
Concordat, n., a treaty to which the Vatican is a party. From the French. In English use since 1616.
Consul, n., a diplomat charged with protecting his nation’s commercial interests and the interests of expatriate citizens in a foreign locale. The official title is usually vice-consul, with a consul-general being in charge of a large consular staff. Duties include assisting businessmen, granting visas, replacing lost passports, and ensuring the rights of citizens who have been arrested by the host nation. A consulate is the building housing a consul’s offices. This may be part of the embassy, but not necessarily. (For example, the US Embassy to the Netherlands is in The Hague, but there is no consulate in that city; the US Consulate is in Amsterdam. And often, a country will have several consulates in another nation. Many nations have consulates in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in addition to Washington.) In the diplomatic sense since 1599. Originally a consul was the elected head of the body of merchants in a foreign port and acted as a representative of the merchants to the government. From the Latin title of the magistrates who ruled the Roman Empire.
Consular Agent, n., a person charged with carrying out consular duties in a city or region that does not justify a full consulate. Consular agents are usually expatriates and do the work part time.
Convention, n., a treaty, especially one between more than two states. From c. 1603 in the diplomatic sense, so called because of the assembly of nations that agrees to it.
Counselor, n., a senior embassy officer. In diplomatic use since 1914. Also spelled counsellor.
Country Desk, n., an office in the foreign ministry responsible for relations with a particular country.
Country Team, n., American diplomatic term for an ambassador’s senior staff, his “cabinet” as it were.
Delegation, n., an official party sent to a conference or on a special mission to represent the nation. From the Latin. This sense has been in use since 1818.
Démarche, n. and v., a diplomatic initiative or request; to take such an initiative or make a request. From the French. In diplomatic use since 1678.
Democratization, n., the process of rendering or becoming more democratic. From 1865.
Détente, n., the easing of tensions between two nations. From the French for loosening or relaxing. In English use since 1908. Détente also has a specific historical sense of the improved US-Soviet relations in the early 1970s.
Diplomatic Corps, n., the body of diplomats, from all nations, assigned to a capital.
Diplomatic Illness, n., a feigned illness to avoid attending an event without giving offense. Also diplomatic deafness, choosing not to hear what one wishes were not said.
Diplomatic immunity, n., the exemption from arrest, taxes, and searches granted to diplomats in the host country. Diplomatic immunity may be waived by the diplomat’s home country. The term has been in use since 1911, but the concept is ancient.
Embassy, n., originally a diplomatic mission, now it usually refers to the chancery building(s), although technically the ambassador’s residence is the embassy building. From the Old French ambassée, since 1600 in English.
Entente, n., an understanding or agreement, particularly one that entails close cooperation to achieve a mutual objective, or historically the name for the pre-WWI defensive pact between England and France of 1904 which Russia later joined in 1908. A clipping of the French entente cordiale. The clipped form has been in English use since 1854, the full form from 1844.
Envoy, n., a senior diplomat. Formerly envoy was an official title for a diplomat ranking directly below an ambassador, the term no longer refers to a specific rank. Now it is most often used as a clipped form of envoy extraordinary, or an envoy on a temporary mission. From the French. In English use since 1660.
Extraterritoriality, n., the legal exercise of national sovereignty on the territory of another state. Originally limited to diplomatic persons and embassy property, the concept was later extended to other nationals living abroad and other places. Example: American and British control of Iraqi airspace since the 1991 Gulf War is an extraterritorial power given the two nations by the ceasefire agreement. Since 1836.
Fallback position, n., a planned compromise in negotiations if the initial position is not acceptable to the other side. An American political term from the 1960s, it was first used in diplomacy by Jimmy Carter in 1978. A rule of thumb for a good backstopping group is never to give a fallback position to the negotiating team, because the negotiators will usually propose it to the other side at the first hint of disagreement.
Foggy Bottom, n., derisive nickname for the US State Department. Named for the Washington neighborhood where the department has been located since 1947. The neighborhood is so called because it was once a low area of swamps along the Potomac River. Washington Post journalist Edward Folliard is popularly credited with coining the departmental nickname, c. 1948.
Human rights, n., inalienable right to political freedom. Thomas Paine first used the term in his 1791 The Rights of Man. The preferred term for the next 150 years, however, was rights of man, or droits de l’homme, although human rights remained in occasional use. Human rights became the diplomatic term of art in 1945 when it was used in the United Nations Charter. The term came to the fore in the 1970s with the rise of groups like Amnesty International and when President Carter announced that human rights would be a major goal of US foreign policy.
Interagency, n. and adj., bureaucratic decision-making structure of the US government. Routine US foreign policy and other governmental decisions are most often made in meetings attended by representatives of interested departments and agencies, or interagency meetings.
Legation, n., a diplomatic mission. From the Latin, in English since 1460. In US usage, a legation was a mission headed by someone of less than ambassadorial rank. Until the mid-20th century, most American diplomatic missions were legations, not embassies. This specific American usage is now obsolete.
Linkage, n., a negotiating strategy of holding progress on an issue hostage to progress on another unrelated issue, e.g., the United States granting most-favored nation status to China conditional on improvements in human rights. The diplomatic sense was popularized by Henry Kissinger’s use of it, but it has been State Department jargon since the mid-1960s.
Mission, n., a body of diplomats assigned to country or making a specific representation. In US usage, it is a permanent diplomatic establishment, especially one to an international organization, such as the United Nations. From the Latin. Since 1626.
Most Favored Nation, adj., a trade negotiations term for equality in commercial status. It does not mean, as one might think, that a most-favored nation gets special treatment, rather it means that no one else gets better. In use since 1905.
Multilateral, adj., denoting diplomacy between three or more countries, as opposed to bilateral diplomacy. In diplomatic use since 1802. Also, it is informally used as a noun to denote a multilateral meeting or agreement, particularly when there is simultaneous bilateral diplomacy on the same subject.
Nation-Building, adj. and n., the creation of the political and economic infrastructure of a modern, politically and socially stable state. Used as an adjective since 1913, as a noun since 1971.
NGO, n., abbreviation for non-governmental organization. The term is used for organizations like Amnesty International and the International Red Cross that attend diplomatic conferences.
Non-paper, n., an (supposedly) unofficial, written proposal put forward during negotiations. Unlike a paper, its official counterpart, a non-paper can quickly be retracted or abandoned if agreement is not forthcoming.
On the margins, adj. phrase, negotiations and business conducted at a meeting that is not on the official agenda. From the idea that such discussions are off to the side, on the margins of the room. Usually, such on-the-margins discussions are what result in real progress in negotiations, with the official agenda left to posturing and ratification of on-the-margins agreements from past meetings. Also at the margins.
Persona non grata, adj., an unwelcome person. When a country wishes to expel a diplomat, they declare him persona non grata. Also PNG, which is also used as a verb, “he was PNGed because they suspected him of being a spy.” From the Latin. Since 1904.
Pouch, n., sealed container holding diplomatic correspondence that is not subject to opening or inspection by the host country, fully diplomatic pouch (1958). In British parlance, diplomatic bag (1816). The pouch is not necessarily small, any container or box, sometimes quite large, can be a diplomatic pouch.
Protocol, n., 1) an agreement or treaty, especially an addendum that clarifies or adds to another, older agreement. From the Old French prothocole, In English use since 1541. 2) the traditions of diplomatic courtesy and precedence, from French, 1896. This second definition is ultimately from the same root as the first, but is a modern borrowing.
Public diplomacy, n., an appeal to the populace of another nation in an attempt to influence their government’s policy. Colin Powell is conducting public diplomacy when he appears on Al Jazeera television.
Ratify, v., to approve, make valid, especially regarding a treaty. Treaties are signed upon the conclusion of negotiations, whereupon they are sent to the respective capitals for ratification. The process of ratification varies country by country. In the United States, the president ratifies a treaty after the Senate has given its consent. The Senate debate and vote is often mistakenly referred to as ratification; it is officially advice and consent.
Realpolitik, n., diplomatic strategy based on self-interest and power rather than moral or ideological grounds. In German from 1853, English from 1914.
Recognition, n., acknowledgement of the independence and sovereignty of one state by another, also the acknowledgement that a government is the legitimate and actual ruler of a state. From the Latin. In diplomatic use since 1824.
Sanction, n., economic or limited military action taken by a state against another to compel adherence to an agreement. A legal term since c. 1633, it has been in diplomatic use since 1919. From the Latin, possibly via French.
Seventh Floor, n., the senior leadership of the US State Department, the secretary of state and his inner circle of assistants and advisers. From the fact that the secretary’s office is on the seventh floor of the State Department building.
Shuttle diplomacy, n., negotiations carried out through an intermediary who travels between the respective capitals. Since 1974.
State Department, n., the foreign ministry of the United States. Originally the Department of Foreign Affairs, in 1789 Congress gave the department responsibility for record keeping, publishing and distributing proclamations and laws, and authenticating official documents and renamed it the Department of State. Over the years these domestic functions expanded and contracted and are now limited to a few functions of protocol, but the name remains. Many US states have Departments of State that perform those record keeping and protocol functions for the state government.
Summit, n. and v., a meeting between heads of government. From the idea that the meeting is at the highest level. Diplomatic use coined by Winston Churchill in 1950. As a verb since 1972.
Treaty, n., an agreement between nations. In diplomatic use since 1430. From the Old French traité.
Visa, n., written permission to enter a country. From the French. In English use since 1831.
Walk in the woods, n.phr., an unofficial, private meeting between negotiators aimed at resolving thorny issues. From a literal walk in the woods taken in Geneva in 1982 by American arms control negotiator Paul Nitze and his Soviet counterpart Yuri Kvitinsky that eventually led to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Walking back the cat, v.phr., US State Department slang for retreating from a negotiating position. Of metaphorical origin.
White Paper, n., an official government position accompanied by a rationale. From the British government practice of presenting long statements of policy or draft legislation to parliament bound in blue covers, blue books, and shorter ones in white covers, white papers. Blue book remains British government jargon, but white paper has gained international currency. Since c. 1955.
Zero-sum, adj., a diplomatic situation where there is no mutually beneficial outcome possible, one side will win and the other lose. From game theory. Coined in 1944 by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morganstern. Also non-zero-sum.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton