War talk changes our words

It’s a bit strange to watch how our everyday language seems to be affected by the times in which we live. In the Sixties and Seventies our speech was laden with lots of “peace, brother” and “love the one you’re with” and “run, people, here come the pigs” that often had little to do with what we were saying. For example, “yeah, man, pick up some eggs and bread and a couple of six-packs. Peace, brother.”

In the Nineties, we seemed to be enamored with anything relating to the dot-com world (before that world crumbled before our eyes, of course). Here, in the ’00 decade, our language rapidly is taking on words and phrases that reflect our times: a nation going to war. Admittedly, some of the creeping lingo may be more perception than reality. The mind can play cruel tricks on us if we let it.

For example, if you scan the bestseller list this week of non-fiction titles, even books that do not deal with war seem as though they could. But judge for yourself. Among the Top 10 books in the nation this week are these titles: Bush at War, The Right Man, The Conquerors, Execution, Body for Life, Longitudes & Latitudes, What Should I do with My Life?, and Master of the Senate. No one could make this stuff up. Given the theme of war, don’t these titles suddenly seem to be made to order, even if war was the farthest thing from some publishers’ minds when they devised these titles?

So we can probably expect to start hearing business people and athletes and TV commentators get into a war mode with such exclamations as “customers have created a firestorm of protest over the bad bagels” and “hey, nuke up my coffee, if you don’t mind” and maybe even “this guy is hurting our bottom line, boss. I say we Saddam him as soon as possible.” So here’s a helpful translation guide to possible war-speak, 2003 style:

“This guy will never need night-vision goggles.” (He never works late enough to get dark outside.)

“We targeted our position correctly, but the scope was off-track.” (We know who are customers are, but our marketing people screwed it up.)

“Ground Zero is under attack from the soldiers.” (Top executives at company headquarters are about to be removed by shareholders.)

“Wanted: Dead or Alive.” (Flu or not, get your butt into the office for the morning staff meeting.)

“Do we have to U.N. this thing to death?” (Why does everything have to be decided by committee?)

“Your expense account shows a severe material breach.” (We can’t find any specific problems, but your receipts are suspect.)

“My homework was just vaporized by the dog.” (The family pet left no trace of the materials in question.)

“She’s hovering in a no-fly zone.” (She has no idea what she’s talking about.)

“We’re looking at a pure Baghdad scenario here.” (The auditors say this firm will not be in a good place very soon.)

“Well, we can always Hans Blix it for a while.” (Let’s stall for time.)

“Let him Rumsfeld it for a month while we dodge the cross-hairs.” (Keep the media amused with candid comments while we stay out of trouble.)

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected]

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