FIBUA, mouseholing, and other words of war.

FIBUA, mouseholing, and other words of war.

FIBUA, mouseholing, and other words of war.

Language and how we use it.
April 4 2003 5:33 PM

The Words of War

Where do MOUTs and MOPPs come from?

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Regime change: The removal of Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants from power, one way or another. Likely to catch on in venues such as electoral politics and hostile corporate takeovers.


Shock and awe: Dropping a large number of bombs on an area in a short period to frighten the enemy and sap his will to fight. The military's use of the term dates back to a 1996 book called Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, the result of work by a Pentagon study group. Even though the tactic doesn't seem to have had quite the desired effect in Baghdad (perhaps because the Iraqis knew it was coming), it may be the term most likely to stick in our culture. Within hours of the campaign's launch, "shock and awe" was already being used by writers in very nonmilitary contexts. (One of the first was Slate's David Edelstein, in this pre-Oscars "Dialogue.")

Sojo: Solo journalist, specifically one who can transmit TV reports from the field without a crew. Think Al Franken with a satellite dish on his head, only real.

Unilaterals: Journalists who are not embedded with U.S. or British forces and are making their way around the war zone on their own or in small groups. An admirable although dangerous thing to do. Most of the reporters killed so far have been unilaterals.

Vertical envelopment: A variation on what's better known as "flanking" the enemy. In this case, it means using aircraft to lift forces over and behind the enemy's position. A term used a little in previous conflicts but coming into wider use now.

For the record, wars can also on occasion "soften" (kill off parts of) language. Here's one term that has probably been done in by recent events:

Homicide bomber: The Bush administration's attempt to shift the focus in suicide bombings away from the bomber and toward the victims. An admirable goal, but news organizations (except, on occasion, Fox) have resisted the term, and now it seems even Gen. Tommy Franks won't go along. The problem is, most bombers are trying to commit homicide. The suicide part is what's different and, especially, lethal.