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Military terminology refers to the terms and language of military organizations and personnel as belonging to a discrete category, as distinguishable by their usage in military doctrine, as they serve to depoliticise, dehumanise, or otherwise abstract discussion about its operations from an actual description thereof.

Common understanding

The operational pressure for uniform understanding has developed since the early 20th century with the importance of joint operations between different services (army, navy, air force) of the same country. International alliances and operations, including peacekeeping,[1] have added additional complexity. For example, the NATO alliance now maintains a large dictionary[2] of common terms for use by member countries. Development work is also taking place[3] between NATO and Russia on common terminology for extended air defence, in English, French and Russian.


Some claim military terms serve to depoliticise, dehumanize, or otherwise abstract discussion about operations from an actual description thereof. Similar to "legal terminology" and related to "political terminology", military terms are known for an oblique tendency to incorporate technical language. In many cases it reflects a need to be precise. It can also reflect a perceived need for operational security, giving away no more information than needed. It can also serve to disguise or distort meaning as with doublespeak. "Kinetic activity" as a buzzword for combat, in use since the inception of the War on Terror, has been criticized as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for murder.[4]

Feminist Criticism

Contemporary feminist analysis of military terminology examines the use of highly gendered and sexualized language within militaristic institutions. Primary feminist critiques of such discourse focus on the masculinisation of military capability, the competitive nature of developing and acquiring superior arms-technology, and the use of sexual and phallic imagery when discussing nuclear weaponry. In Carol Cohn’s study of the language used by nuclear defense intellectuals, she investigates how and why sexual euphemisms are used so habitually. In her article, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Cohn describes how nuclear defense lectures and discussions were abundant with talk of “vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration” and phrases like “more bang for your buck.”[5] She explains that while this language emphasizes a correlation between sexual dominance and militaristic power, it also works to make light of and distance oneself from the realities of war and destruction.[6] As well, Cohn explains that while nuclear defense discourse implies that military capability is linked to a sense of masculinity, it also depicts lack of weaponry as feminine or ‘virgin’ and thus, further excludes femininity from the realm of militarism.[7] In 2008, Claire Duncanson and Catherine Eschle published the study, “Gender and the Nuclear Weapons State: A Feminist Critique of the UK Government’s White Paper on Trident,” which substantiates Cohn’s groundbreaking findings. Duncanson and Eschle describe the portrayals of gender within security discourse; most notably, the ways in which masculinised language is used to devalue any affiliations with feminine qualities or characteristics.[8] Coded military terminology not only disassociates the speaker from the realities of war, but even more so from the emotional responses attached to death and destruction: emotional responses which are often deemed feminine. Duncanson and Eschle explain that as defense discussions exclude femininity, the mode for security becomes guaranteed through technology and weapons, rather than through a basis of relationships.[9] This is problematic for the future of disarmament ventures or the possibility of an international community that does not rely on deterrence as the primary system of security.

See also

External links


  1. Colonel Andrei Demurenko and Professor Alexander Nikitin, Basic Terminology and Concepts in International Peacekeeping Operations: An Analytical Review (translated Robert R. Love) in Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Volume 6, Summer 1997, Frank Cass, London accessed at Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, US [1] July 28, 2006
  2. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms accessed on Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), US website, July 28, 2006
  3. Robert Bell, Ballistic Missile Threats:A NATO-Russia Strategic Challenge in Krasnaya Zvezda, Feb 23, 2003 accessed at NATO on-line Library [2] July 28, 2006
  4. Woodward, Paul (February 14, 2012). "The U.S.-Israeli don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on murder". War in Context. Archived from the original on 2013-03-06. Retrieved March 6, 2013. "One man uses a bomb to kill another and he’s a terrorist. Another does the same and it’s a form of kinetic activity. I guess that makes the latter a kineticist." 
  5. Cohn, Carol (1987). "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals". p. 693. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  6. "Ibid". p. 696. 
  7. "Ibid". pp. 717–718. 
  8. Duncanson, Claire; Catherine Eschle (2008). "Gender and the Nuclear Weapons State: A Feminist Critique of the UK Government's White Paper on Trident". p. 561. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  9. "Ibid". 

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