Re: state of memes

From: Wade T.Smith (
Date: Tue Sep 25 2001 - 20:11:36 BST

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    On 09/25/01 10:58, Philip Jonkers said this-

    >Due to the terrorist bombing of two weeks ago memetic
    >evolution is likely to see some drastic changes and boosts indeed.

    William Safire from the New York Times-

    September 23, 2001

    Words of the War on Terror


    The first draft of President Franklin Roosevelt箂 request to Congress for
    a declaration of war began, 寣Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which
    will live in world history.构 In his second draft, he crossed out 寣world
    history构 and substituted a condemnatory word that was far more
    memorable: infamy.

    Though its adjective, infamous, was frequently used, the noun infamy was
    less familiar. It means 寣evil fame, shameful repute, notorious
    disgrace构 and befitted the nation箂 shock at the bloody destruction at
    Pearl Harbor, a successful surprise blow that was instantly characterized
    by the victim nation as a 寣sneak attack.构

    The word, with its connotation of wartime shock and horror, was chosen by
    headline writers to label the terrorist attack on New York and Washington
    that demolished the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a portion
    of the Pentagon. In newspapers and on television, the historical day of
    infamy was the label chosen, along with the more general 寣attack on

    The killers were hijackers. This Americanism, origin unknown, was first
    cited in 1912 as to kick up high jack, which Dialect Notes defined as
    寣to cause a disturbance构; 10 years later, a book about hobos noted
    寣hi-jacking, or robbing men at night when sleeping in the jungles.构 In
    the 1960箂, as terrorists began seizing control of airliners, the verb
    skyjack was coined but has since fallen into disuse.

    The suicidal hijackers were able to slip a new weapon through the metal
    detectors: a box cutter, defined in the on-top-of-the-news New Oxford
    American Dictionary (to be published next month) as 寣a thin, inexpensive
    razor-blade knife designed to open cardboard boxes.构 Barbara Olson, a
    passenger aboard the airliner doomed to be crashed into the Pentagon, was
    able to telephone her husband, Solicitor General Ted Olson; she told him
    that the hijackers were armed with knives and what she called a cardboard

    These terrorists were suicide bombers, a phrase used in a 1981 Associated
    Press dispatch by Tom Baldwin in Lebanon about the driving of an
    explosives-laden car into the Iraqi Embassy. In 1983, Newsweek reported
    that 寣the winds of fanaticism have blown up a merciless throng of
    killers: the assassins, thugs, kamikazes and now the suicide bombers.构

    Kamikaze is Japanese for 寣divine wind,构 a reference to a storm in the
    13th century that blew away a fleet of invading Mongols. In World War II,
    the word described suicidal pilots who dived their planes into enemy
    ships. English has now absorbed the word: Al Hunt of The Wall Street
    Journal wrote last week that airline policy 寣was turned upside down by
    these kamikaze fanatics.构

    Hunt, like President Bush and many others, called these acts of
    murder-suicide cowardly. That is not a modifier I would use, nor would I
    employ its synonym dastardly (though F.D.R. did), which also means
    寣shrinking from danger.构 If anything, the suicide bomber or suicide
    hijacker is maniacally fearless, the normal human survival instinct
    overwhelmed by hatred or brainwashed fervor. Senseless and mindless are
    other mistaken modifiers of these killings: the sense, or evil purpose,
    of modern barbaric murder is to carry out a blindly worshiped leader箂
    desire to shock, horrify and ultimately intimidate the target箂 civilized

    Another word that deserves a second look is justice. Both Senator John
    McCain and the Bush adviser Karen Hughes called for 寣swift justice 构 to
    be meted out to the perpetrators, ordinarily a sentiment widely shared.
    But the columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote: 寣There should be no talk of
    bringing these people to 宻wift justice.範. . .燗n open act of war
    demands a military response, not a judicial one.构

    The leading suspect at the center of the terror campaign is Osama bin
    Laden. The bin, meaning 寣son of,构 is not capped; Westerners have chosen
    not to capitalize the Arabic just as they have often chosen to capitalize
    the Hebrew Ben, which has the same meaning. This has nothing to do with
    correctness; it is strictly idiosyncratic convention, varying among
    regions and stylists. (When starting a sentence with bin Laden箂 name,
    Times style calls for capitalizing it, which then looks like a mistake.)
    Bin Laden has been given a shorthand, bogus title, much like vice
    overlord, fugitive financier and drug kingpin: his is terrorist

    The name of his organization, al-Qaeda, means 寣the base,构 in looser
    modern Arabic, 寣the military headquarters.构 His host in Afghanistan is
    the Taliban, a religio-political group whose name means 寣those who
    seek.构 The Arab word talib, 寣student,构 has been given a Persian
    suffix, an, which is an unusual amalgam or was a mistake.

    The Taliban (proper noun construed as plural) harbor bin Laden and the
    base of his organization. That is now becoming a political verb with a

    寣We will make no distinction,构 President Bush said, 寣between the
    terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.构 A key
    sense of the verb to harbor is 寣to give shelter and concealment to
    wrongdoers.构 The next day, Bush used the noun form creatively: 寣This is
    an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe, but they won箃 be safe
    forever.构 That was an extension of the noun箂 present meaning of 寣place
    of shelter, haven, port构 to 寣place where evildoers think they are out
    of reach of punishment.构

    Finally, the word terrorist. It is rooted in the Latin terrere, 寣to
    frighten,构 and the -ist was coined in France to castigate the
    perpetrators of the Reign of Terror. Edmund Burke in 1795 defined the
    word in English: 寣Those hell-hounds called terrorists. . . are let
    loose on the people.构

    The sternly judgmental word should not be avoided or euphemized. Nobody
    can accurately call those who plotted, financed and carried out the
    infamous mass slaughter of Sept. 11 militants, resistance fighters,
    gunmen, partisans or guerrillas. The most precise word to describe a
    person or group who murders even one innocent civilian to send a
    political message is terrorist.

    Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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