How our language has changed since 9/11

11:21 AM, Aug 11, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON -- Not since "Cold War," "Pearl Harbor" and "Civil War" has a phrase been imbued with so much meaning.

"9/11" is a line of demarcation. Among the things that changed after Sept. 11, 2001, was our very language: our words, acronyms and catch phrases. Combined, they help illuminate the history of a decade.

Some entries in our post-9/11 glossary:

al-Qaida: The terrorist organization whose acolytes launched the Sept. 11 attacks. Many of its leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are dead, but American security officials still consider it a threat.

Anthrax: Deadly agent sent to U.S senators and members of the media in the days after 9/11 that killed five and sickened more than a dozen others.

Axis of Evil: Former President George W. Bush's 2002 description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in a State of the Union address months after the 9/11 attack.

DHS: Department of Homeland Security, a new entity born from a massive reorganization that pulled together a variety of government agencies and functions, from immigration services to hurricane response to airport security.

Dirty bomb: A conventional bomb that, upon detonation, would disperse radioactive materials, killing people and rendering surrounding environs uninhabitable.

Don't touch my junk: Adaptation of a warning uttered by John Tyner, a San Diego software programmer, who protested what he considered an invasive pat down by airport security. The phrase became a rallying cry after Tyner posted online a recording of the encounter.

Enhanced interrogation: Tactics used by American interrogators on suspected terrorists. Supporters say it saves lives and is legal, critics say it violates the Geneva Convention and American laws.

IED: Improvised Explosive Device. The U.S. military's term for bombs set along busy travel routes, often remotely detonated, that are designed to kill and maim American and allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Guantanamo: The U.S. detention center in Cuba where suspected terrorists have been held since shortly after 9/11. It's become a symbol of the extraordinary investigative measures undertaken by the U.S. government, and a target of critics who say it is illegal and counterproductive to U.S. overall counter-terrorism goals.

Ground zero: The site of the collapsed Twin Towers of New York City's World Trade Center, a prime target of al-Qaida airline hijackers on 9/11. The lower Manhattan site remains symbolic of America's shock, sorrow, response and recovery from 9/11.

Let's Roll: The defiant words of Todd Beamer, one of the United Flight 93 passengers who fought 9/11 hijackers, resulting in the plane crashing in a Pennsylvania field.

Navy Seal Team Six: Elite, Special Forces group that killed Osama bin Laden in a raid on a Pakistani compound in 2011.

Radical Islamic terrorist: Phrase used to describe terrorists who act while citing religious beliefs.

Remove your shoes: Requirement of airline passengers to pass through screening after Richard Reid failed to detonate a bomb in his shoe on a U.S.-bound flight after 9/11.

Sleeper cell: Term applied to terrorists who, acting in careful consort, try to blend into a population before striking.

Suicide bomber: A person who is willing to sacrifice his or her own life in order to kill others; they are strapped with explosives or attempt to drive explosives-laden vehicles into targets.

Taliban: Strict Islamist militia group that ruled Afghanistan when al-Qaida had training camps there. They were routed by U.S. and allied forces after 9/11 but have carried on a war to regain control from the government under Hamid Karzai.

TSA: The new federal agency, Transportation Security Administration, is one of the most visible changes in post-9/11 America as its agents daily scan and screen airline passengers.

Threat alert: Much-derided, color-coded matrix devised after 9/11 to warn Americans of the possibility of terrorism. A new system replaced colors with terms like "elevated" and "imminent."

(Gannett News Service)

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