Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The ubiquitous warfighter

The word warfighter suddenly seems ubiquitous. Neither Merriam-Webster nor the OED has an entry yet. The American Heritage Dictionary gives these definitions:

1. A soldier, especially a US soldier who is engaged or has engaged in combat.

2. A person, especially a member of one of the US armed services deployed to an area of conflict, who is responsible for making decisions involving the use of military force.
Google’s Ngram Viewer has nothing for the word before 1971, with use sharply rising since 1988.

Here is an excerpt from William Treseder’s thoughts about the word. Treseder served in the United States Marines and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan:
Sometime in the mid 2000s, a strange new word started to get popular: “warfighter.” It catapulted out of obscurity from the military, quickly becoming the de facto label for all active-duty and reserve personnel. This word is seriously misleading; it presents the exact opposite of military reality at a time when Americans need to be questioning our role in global security more than ever before.

[“From the military”: a link to a Language Log post on the word’s origin.]
To my ear, warfighter has something of the sound of a kenning. As spoken by our president, it sounds like a sanction for war crimes. A service member belongs to a community with norms and values; a warfighter is an independent agent. A warfighter: so anything goes.

comments: 4

Daughter Number Three said...

Wow, I haven't heard that term used at all. Is it meant to be encompassing of all the service branches, as an alternative to the illogical "troop" used as a singular? That would be the only possible reason, and even so, not the term I would use. Sounds like something out of a video game. Which in this era would not be surprising.

Michael Leddy said...

It has appeared in a video game. The link to Language Log in the passage I quoted has a lot of the background.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has worked/still working in the aerospace and defense industry, I hear this term a lot often in the context of need to protect the warfighter. I started hearing it about 2004 but quite frankly have no real idea what the term is referring to.

So is it referring to the equipment being used to fight wars/conflicts which quite frankly is what I thought or is it referring to the persons who are doing the fighting?

I avoid using the term.


Michael Leddy said...

It’s the people.