Humans have been evolving through and with language for thousands of years. Many argue that the basis of art, society, and academia are all from the penned stories and moral warnings of the past. It has been said time and time again – humans are social creatures. We go through most of our lives attempting to communicate with the people around us. The words we use say a lot more than their literal meaning, the convey emotion, circumstance, location, personal beliefs, even our morality. The question is if we dictate these meanings or if they dictate us. There’s a reason that we “reserve parking spaces for the ‘handicapped’, not the ‘crippled’,”. Though the mean relatively the same thing, the inherent connotation of the latter would change how people perceive the situation (“When and how do words become offensive?”). The use of code names and secret meanings in the military was once a method of covering covert operations from the enemy, such as the infamous ‘D-Day’ and ‘V-Day’ of World War II. Now, these words have changed to suit political agendas and propaganda plans rather than keep any plans from the public. These subtle meanings can change throughout time and culture, but hold a piece of historical context within each decision.
Words are coded to have subverted meanings, something to incite emotions within those hearing them. Though there are – as there is with anything military – strict regulations for such a delicate practice as naming a war, these rules are often disregarded to advocate for certain interests. The easiest way to suggest the idea of strength and virtue in a name is to go with classics – historical, religious, or literary heroes that shaped society. Adolf Hitler is known to have taken history and manipulated it to serve the Nazi party’s narrative, and they were the first to follow in this practice with names like ‘Archangel’, ‘Achilles’, ‘St. Michael’, etc. Sometimes, names would be chosen specifically to win over public appeal as they were displayed publically in the US post-WWII. Soon came operations during the Vietnam War that were seen as displaying the wrong message to the public such as “Bong Son Plain”, which was criticized by the President for not advocating the goal of peace and pacification. This thematically plays out the idea of communication at a higher level; words that transcend history and take on hold onto a part of the culture they were created within. The connection of humans is also a big point of contention in the history of military naming. Winston Churchill had many ideas about what would constitute an ‘appropriate’ name for an operation – it couldn’t be too flashy, boring, boasting, or forgettable. The most important, however, was that they could not be a place for humor, “No widow or mother, Churchill said, should have to ‘say that her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo’” (Langworth 2011). This shows how deep of a meaning a word can hold, the suffering of a situation should be reflected in how it is remembered.
Large-scale warfare is transitioning into a major thing of the past, and with it goes the naming of covert operations and plans for attack. Nicknames no longer are a necessity to hiding plans or motives, and now work as yet another tool for propaganda. There are always subtle suggestions of what people should think or feel as a result of a name, which can be manipulated to serve other purposes. However, these name choices are widely criticized based around the culture and social climate at the time of their forming. The ideas of communication, kinship, and religious ties are vital to relating to a group, but will sometimes ostracize another. This is why the naming of operations post- September 11th, 2001 as ‘Enduring Freedom’ brought on questions of deeper meaning on both a grammar and social level (Spradley 2012). When needing to encompass a mission that reflects the country and beliefs of millions, names are an important use of language which can provoke certain thoughts and actions.
- Spradley, J. P., & McCurdy, D. W. (2012). Conformity and conflict: Readings in cultural anthropology. Jill Potash.
- Langworth, R. (2011). Churchill by himself: The definitive collection of quotations. Public Affairs.
- When and how do words become offensive? (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2017, from https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/150432/when-and-how-do-words-become-offensive