How did the military come up with thatmuch-maligned moniker? It's sort of like an Oulipo poetry game.
When any military command wants to giveone of its operations or exercises a nickname, they must choose the first wordfrom a pre-determined set of alphabetical ranges, which are assigned by theJoint Staff. U.S. Africa Command (or AFRICOM), which is overseeing the Libyanoperations, is restricted to words from the following groups:
There are about 50 or 60 usable English words in those three groups, explainsAFRICOM spokesperson Eric Elliott, and the commanders responsible for namingOdyssey Dawn could have chosen from any of the three ranges. Some examples of"unusable" words, he explained, would be nubile or nuclear . Words that had alreadybeen used in military nicknames were also off limitswhich, in this case,knocked out words like judicious , obstacle , and ocean . (Earlier press reports mischaracterized some of thesedetails.)
The second word in a military nicknamecan be any English word, but it still needs to be chosen carefully. Mostunclassified nicknames are determined during the early planning stages of anoperation, and the goal is to create a meaningless two-word phrase that can beused in public without tipping anyone off as to the nature of the mission.(It's not unusual for operations to keep their planning-phase nickname whenthey move into active operations, as Odyssey Dawn did.)
As Juliet Lapidos noted in a Slate explainer last September, nicknames must also meet other guidelines : Theymust not be hostile, derogatory, or in bad taste. You're not allowed to usewords that can be properly spelled as one word or two words (like moonlight ), nor can you use "exoticwords, trite expressions, or well-known commercial trademarks." (So long,Operation Nyctophobia Overcome, Operation Jungle Fever, and Operation NutraSweet.) There's some leeway, at least, when it comes to defining exotic : AFRICOM nicknamed one Navyexercise in the Gulf of Guinea Obangame Express, but since obangame is a word from Nigeria, a nearby country, it passedmuster.
So now we ask you: Can you do better thanthe military? Given the conventions described above, what you would you renameOdyssey Dawn? How about Operation Oarsmen Rowing? Or maybe Operation Null Set?Operation Off Broadway? Leave your best nickname in the comments, or tweet itat us with the hashtag #RenameOdysseyDawn . If we get enough worthy responses, we'll round up the best in a forthcoming post.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force/Getty Images.