Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How does "car bomb" turn into V.B.I.E.D.?

Dr. Strangelove and U.S. West have frequent contacts with military people. Perhaps they can explain something that has got me scratching my head this week. Why do military people seem to prone to inventing needlessly complicated jargon to describe things for which there are already perfectly cromulent words?

PS: V.B.I.E.D. apparently stands for "vehicle born improvised explosive device" and was used without any attempt at humor or irony by a Lt. Colonel being interviewed on NPR yesterday during their story on women in combat.


Dr. Strangelove said...

It's just jargon... and perhaps not much worse, really, than any other field. Instead of inventing or re-purposing long words, they make acronyms. I presume RbR's use of the obscure word "cromulent" is a winking nod to precisely that sort of thing...?

As always, there is some justification for the use of specialized jargon for precision. To a military person, a "bomb" is a particular kind of weapon--usually the type dropped from an airplane--and decidedly not the kind al Qaeda plants in vehicles. Furthermore, a "car" is a particular kind of vehicle, and in point of fact I think trucks, jeeps, etc. are more frequently used. IEDs are also rather different from older car bombs, in that they are typically detonated remotely and often employ shaped charges instead of a payload of rusty nails and shrapnel: they are designed to kill soldiers patrolling in armored vehicles rather than civilians walking out in the open.

In some cases, rivalry among the different branches of the armed forces is expressed through jargon differences. For example, what the Air Force still calls an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is now called by the Joint Staff an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). In some cases--like all jargon--it is used to lend a veneer of expertise to the speaker. In that sense it is also something borrowed from the corporate world, which (as we know) is well entwined with the military these days.

"Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device" is, unfortunately, by no means the worst acronym out there. No worse than POTUS, about which other Citizens have complained :-)

The Law Talking Guy said...

George Orwell's always timely essay on "Politics and the English Language" bears revisiting now and again. He said, "The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details."

I think that sums up exactly why the military goes in for such jargon.

Bell Curve said...

BTW, "cromulent" is a Simpsons reference and not a real word in any way ...

Raised By Republicans said...

I knew Bell Curve would notice!

Dr. Strangelove said...

Part of Speech: adj
Definition: fine, acceptable
Usage: slang

Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, Preview Edition (v 0.9.7)
Copyright © 2003-2007 Lexico Publishing Group, LLC

USWest said...

Hey, looks like my comment didn't take. Bummer.

I also heard this story and remarked on the change.

My general comment is that the military also changes things for propaganda purposes. Operation Enduring Freedom Division (O.E.F) was changed to Global War on Terror (GWOT), which is pronounced Gee-Wot, but if mispronounced sounds like some horrid anal disease. Nothing about the division changed but its name. The responsibilities were the same.

And proof that the Surge is going to be more permanent than they are letting on is that we are now going to get a "Surge Ops Center".

I would also point out that if the military is changing their nomenclature, it is an indication that something more fundamental has changed. In this case, the capabilities of the enemy have changed enough that the military has decided to create new terms for the sake of precision as Dr. S pointed out.

Raised By Republicans said...

Gee, what?

USwest said...

Mispronounced it comes out "gwatt", rhyming with squat.