A coworker posed an interesting question yesterday: What, pray tell exactly is an "insurgent"? Is this a new term describing a new situation or just one that hasn't been used often before?" Now, in my mind "insurgent" equates to "rebel" or "revolutionary" but not necessarily belonging to a well-organized group. This got me thinking, however (always a dangerous and at times exasperating occurrence, I know). Why *are* Shrub & Co. labeling Iraqi rebels as insurgents, specifically when they really are rebels? And why is nobody questioning this seemingly innocuous choice of words? So I looked it up. Come to find out, according to Merriam-Webster, "insurgent" actually means:
1 : a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially : a rebel not recognized as a belligerent 2 : one who acts contrary to the policies and decisions of one's own political party.
Now, the insurgents we're facing in Iraq are most certainly of the belligerent variety. Which means the media has happily adopted Shrub's label without bothering to check Merriam-Webster themselves to make sure he's using the term correctly. That's very interesting, I think. But I still haven't quite figured out why they adopted this phrase when it so obviously does not apply. My hunch, however is that it was used initially following the invasion in an attempt to minimize the dangerous nature of opposition forces: "Oh, no Mr. & Mrs. America - they're not *dangerous, violent* rebels! The vast majority of the population are thrilled we bombed the shit out of them! These are just, well... harmless, disgruntled, religious foreign nutcases who are trying to stir up national feeling against us. "
Now after roadside bomb after roadside bomb, beheading after beheading, the violence of the rebels has become a convenient scapegoat for why we can't get our shit together (to provide critical fuel, electricity, water and basic human services). It is now not only impossible to ignore the extremely belligerent nature of the opposition, but has turned to the administration's advantage to highlight it. Since the non-belligerent euphemism no longer holds water, though I'm very curious to know why they're sticking with it. Maybe it's nothing. Like Shrub I've been known to creatively bend the rules of English myself quite often (much to my copy-editor's dismay. As my high school journalism teacher once put it, "It's not that your style is technically incorrect, per se... just a little odd"). And I know there are far more important things to contemplate in the grand scheme of things. But it's something to ponder.