05 May 2013

Use the Power of Language, Part II

Logo from Boston.com

Earlier today, Laura Walker tweeted a link to a post about forensic analysis of the bombs used at the Boston Marathon:
Excellent, detailed guide to analyzing the remnants of the IEDs used in the Boston Bombings: http://www.trackingterrorism.org/article/examining-improvised-explosive-devices-how-did-boston-bombers-do-it/introduction via @spearheadbroken
People in the media understand how subtle connotations can be used to shape opinion. Laura's tweet hit me today as an example of just that. The phrase “Improvised Explosive Device” and its abbreviation “IED” have become so commonplace that it seems any non-military explosive is designated as such. But is it accurate?

Are we using the word “improvised” to mean “home-built”? Because buying materials and learning methods to build a specific thing is not improvisation. In fact, the word “improvise” comes from a word that literally means “unforeseen”. Was McVeigh’s and Nichols’ truck bomb improvised? The materials they used were not designed to be an explosive, but they purchased those materials expressly to make an explosive. Hardly unforeseen. Acquiring skill and materials with intent to perform a specific action is not improvisation.

To me, this means that the term “Improvised Explosive Device” was invented, or at least more broadly applied, in order to disguise the fact that terrorist groups are at work. “Oh, he’s no terrorist! He just became angry at the US and threw together a little fireworks to express himself.”

Of course, the quick acceptance of the term may have had more to do with the catchy abbreviation and disregard for the actual meaning of the words, and no sinister plotting was involved. In fact, a variation on a theme admonishes us never to ascribe to malice what may be explained by mere stupidity. Ah, well, I guess I just wanted to rant.