Wednesday, March 19

War of Words

The irascible American humorist Mark Twain once asserted that, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightening and the lightening bug."

With the build up to a clash of swords in Iraq, a build up in a clash of words has been discernable, particularly in both the mainstream and tabloid press. Journalists have begun to display a good deal of creativity in contributing to the great tradition of new jargon, buzzwords, argo, slang, lingo, colloquialism, terminology, and snigglets--a tradition that has long been a part of the development and maturation of the American linguistic canon. They are presumably aimed--as are all neologisms or logomorphs--at wryly identifying the truth of new circumstances and situations we face in this poor fallen world.

Thus, Twain’s observation has taken on a rather prophetic guise. Some recent notable examples of these new logomorphs:

Axis of Weasel: Recently, the New York Post depicted French and German delegates to the UN as weasels. Picking up on that pun, the logomorph "Axis of Weasel" was coined by the weblog Now it is popping up everywhere.

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: This very derogatory, stock epithet for the French was originally derived from a Simpson’s episode in which Groundskeeper Willie was a substitute French teacher for the day. The London Times recently reported that France had responded with "an arch shrug, adopting a tone of superiority precisely calculated to send the Americans into even blacker fury." Thus, the Sun adopted this rather provocative logomorph and it has started to spread all across the web.

Pentagonspeak: This interesting logomorph, describing the collection of buzzwords, catchphrases, and mots du jour employed by U.S. strategists, was originally coined by Time magazine. It was no doubt inspired by Orwell's memorable neologism, Newspeak.

Shock and Awe: This may be the quintessential Pentagonspeak. It is the buzzword officials use for their plan for attacking Iraq, the intention being to overpower Saddam with air and ground attacks designed to gain an early victory. How much "shock" an attack will be is doubtful, since everyone knows about it. But in era of "psyops", widespread advance publicity of impending shock and awe could have the desired effect of putting Iraqi forces into disarray.

Simultaneity: This is another Pentagon buzzword, related to shock and awe, referring to concerted bombing and invasion happening at once. Time magazine reported, "The second Gulf War, if it comes, would be more like the Big Bang--hundreds of towering explosions all across Iraq all at the same time."