It was 49 years ago, in the midst of World War II, that Donald Mason of the U.S. Navy tapped out this message:
"Sighted sub, sank same."In the Persian Gulf conflict, the message more likely would have been: "Locked onto asset, visited, acquired."
Between wars, something has been lost in the translation. Now we are plagued with "milspeak," a military mumbo-jumbo right out of a Pogo comic strip, also known as Pentagonese, also known as gobbledygook.
Targets are now referred to as "assets." They are not attacked, they are "visited." They are not blasted back to the Stone Age, they are "acquired" or "suppressed."
Body bags, anyone? Not in Operation Desert Storm. Casualties will be coming home in "human-remains pouches."
However, the military lexicon, as starched and sharp-creased as it might be, does have a few wrinkles. The soldiers, the grunts, they've seen to that. They've developed their own irreverent, techno-pop language.
"There's a whole new jargon coming out of this war," said John Coleman, managing editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine and a former member of the U.S. and Rhodesian armies. "These are the troopies of the '90s, guys who grew up on MTV. They're coming up with their own inventive vocabulary."
For example, someone missing in action is said to have "gone Elvis."
The modern K-ration is now called an MRE, which officially stands for Meal Ready to Eat. But unofficially, by the soldiers who eat the stuff, MRE stands for Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.
Troops on the ground used to refer to Air Force pilots, somewhat derisively, as "flyboys." But in this war they are "zoomies."
In Vietnam, when a soldier shot someone, he was liable to say, "I wasted him." These days, although "waste" persists, the new verb of choice seems to be "popped."
Ordnance is a standard military term for munitions - anything from a single bullet to a nuclear warhead. But now we have "incontinent ordnance," which means somebody goofed and the artillery, or whatever, went awry.
When this happens, it usually means "collateral damage" - civilian casualties.
Nor do today's high-tech armies simply employ weapons. No, they use weapons systems. Why settle for a simple missile when you can have a whole system?
"All the high-tech stuff can get confusing, even to me, and I deal with it every day," said Coleman. "Like a B-52G. I know what a B-52 is, of course, but what's the G-model? Those kinds of things - I have to go look them up."
Well, we've looked up a few other terms, some strictly regulation, some not, that have been deployed in this war:
BDA: Bomb damage assessment.
Beach: The desert.
BMO: Black Moving Object, or a Saudi woman in traditional dress.
Bogie: An enemy plane, right out of Top Gun.
Chaff: Pieces of metal released by planes to confuse the enemy's radar.
Fratricide: Fighter-pilot talk for accidentally shooting down another allied plane. When this happens, pilots "mort themselves out."
Frogfoot: An Iraqi attack plane, officially known by its Soviet designation SU-25. Similar to the U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts.
Fur ball: The frenzy of an air battle.
Golden BB: The anti-aircraft doctrine that says if you put enough ordnance in the air, an enemy plane or two is going to get hit eventually.
Goo: The Gulf of Oman, as in "sailing through the Goo."
Kevlars: Helmets, which are now made of the high-tech composite of the same name. Also called "bone domes."
Homer: As in Homer Simpson. What U.S. troops call Iraqi soldiers.
Humvee or Hummer: The new Jeep - bigger, faster, diesel-powered.
Make the rubble bounce: British Forces jargon for heavy bombing.
Minders: Armed forces personnel who keep tabs on journalists.
REMFs: A derisive reference to rear-echelon troops.
Sand Boy Express: Any form of transport on the "beach."
Scud-buster: The Patriot missile, manned by "Scud puppies."
Saddam: Pronounced Suh-DAHM (except by George Bush). It means "one who confronts."
Sebkha: An Arabic word for an underground stream that can rise to the surface and bog down tanks and troops.
Semper Gumby: Always flexible, a play on the Marine motto Semper Fi.
Skip bombing: Dropping munitions so they bounce along the ground or the water to hit the side of a tank or a ship.
Squawking: Talking from plane to plane, usually with a pre-arranged code for identification.
Toe-poppers: Small landmines.
TOW missiles: An American weapon. TOW is an acronym for tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided.
Triple-A: Anti-aircraft artillery.
Wadis: Dry river beds at the "beach."
Whales: Tankers in the gulf.