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Fox Gets Confused By Its Own Stylistic Innovation:

Gabe (A Handful of Sand) writes (emphasis added, see the post for links):

I wanted to add a clear example of just how presposterous [Fox's "suicide bomber"-to-"homicide bomber" conversion] ends up being, especially when it seems like someone just went through and replaced the word "suicide" with "homicide":

New evidence suggests four bombers blew themselves up on the London transportation system last week, killing at least 52 in what could be the first homicide attacks in Western Europe, officials said Tuesday.

The first homicide attacks? Even if one limits this to the first homicide attacks by Islamist terrorists, that's surely false — consider the Madrid bombings. They may well be the first major suicide attacks by Islamist terrorists, though. People who use the clearer, less redundant, and more information-laden "suicide bomber" formulation wouldn't have made this mistake. But people who talk of "homicide bomber" when they mean "bomber who kills people and also commits suicide" did make the mistake.

UPDATE: Some readers correctly pointed out that Fox borrowed the term from others -- most proximately the Bush Administration, though it had been coined earlier. "Its own stylistic innovation" was thus imprecise; I was focusing on the fact that this is Fox's little crotchet, not shared by any of its competitors, and thus innovative within its field, but I should probably have said "its own stylistic idiosyncracy" or some such.

The first uses of this term that I could find in NEXIS, by the way, were in two letters to the editor (Sally Kannemeyer, Newsweek, Oct. 1, 2001 and Daniel Rosenfield, Wash. Post, Oct. 2, 2001) and in a piece by a David Mittman, in Clinician Review, dated Oct. 1, 2001. Then there was a lull, which suggests that it hadn't been used by anyone really famous, or else there probably would have been more reportage or other echoes; but the cluster of publications near Oct. 1 suggest a likely common source, though I don't know which one.

Then in late March 2002, the phrase is used by several Israeli sources, outraged by suicide bombers in Israel. The Bush Administration picked it up in mid-April 2002, and some news outlets followed suit; as best I can tell, Fox is the one that has really made it a part of its lexicon. A quickie search suggests that Administration officials (including Bush) have largely reverted to "suicide bomber," with a few exceptions.

Michael Benson (mail) (www):
Posts like this are one of the main reasons I read this blog. A narrow point to be sure, but you nailed it. This is a very good example of precise thinking about a precise problem.
7.12.2005 9:44pm
Jonathan M (mail) (www):
While I agree with your reasoning, I do think that homicide attacks are more accurate. You are right, it does not make sense to say that these homicide attacks are the first in Western Europe. However, it is the first time (as you mention) that the bombers sacrificed their life.

The true intent, it seems, of these attacks is homicide; that they were suicide was merely incidental to their true nature. They are terrorist acts plain and simple. That is, I would have a hard time calling the Columbine High School attack a suicide attack, even though the shooter killed himself in the end.

At the very least, both terms are probably reasonable to use. I just wouldn't say that they are the first terrorist bomber acts in Western Europe.
7.12.2005 10:21pm
none (mail):
A more lighthearted example: In the late '90s, the "standards and practices" division of Turner Broadcasting required all Turner programs to replace "foreign" with "international." Turner Sports, the home of World Championship Wrestling, was impacted by this decision with unintentionally comedic results. WCW spent many months telling viewers that, for example, Ric Flair hit Brett Hart in the head with "an international object."

Find and replace, everyone. Find and replace.
7.12.2005 10:22pm
gr (www):
The also have changed Hillary Clinton's quotes to fit their Newspeak. Quotes!

It has got to be a find/replace.

Media Matters
7.12.2005 10:32pm
Challenge:
I wonder if Eugene places the same premium on language when it comes to gay "marriage." Surely, there is some information loss there, too. Surely there is some imprecision in referring to two gays as "married" but you don't elevate style over substance then, do you? I can understand not preferring the term, but this is beginning to... Well, don't let me tell you what to do with your blog :)
7.12.2005 10:47pm
silverpie:
This kind of reminds me of a WSJ blooper a while back: a certain event in Northern Ireland was stated to have brought the Individual Retirement Arrangement to the negotiating table. Another example of find/replace run amok.
7.12.2005 10:57pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
Professor, I think you are dead wrong on this one. As I recall it was the Bush administration that came up with the term homicide bomber. Fox, being a well-known (unofficial) mouthpiece for the administration then duly followed suit and started using the term. This makes it more Orwellian by the way.
7.12.2005 11:04pm
Challenge:
A clarification: Despite any information loss, I think the different term conveys an important point. It redirects the emphasis on the victims rather than the martyrdom of the act--something which is important to them. It takes away that recognition. It places an emphasis on what WE care about. Murder carries with it a weight that suicide does not. It makes the implicit the explicit. These "suicide bombers" are first and foremost MURDERERS. You don't appreciate what the term attempts to do?
7.12.2005 11:04pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
See here for an explanation. Many other sources, besides the liberal Media Matters, confirms this. The term "homicide bomber" was made up by the Bush administration, NOT Fox News. Fox just follows suit because it takes its orders from the administration.
7.12.2005 11:10pm
Warmongering Lunatic:
Again, I like "self-executing bomber".
7.12.2005 11:14pm
eovdedn (mail):
Somehow I always thought homicide bomber is someone who drops the load on the human targets, like in this piece of propaganda by a nasty Marxist newsservice.
7.12.2005 11:40pm
John Jenkins (mail):
My favorite is this headline, "Evidence Points to Homicide Attacks." The mind boggles.

If Fox gets direction from the Bush administration, does that mean that CNN, ABC, NYT, et al. get theirs from the DNC? Alternatively, we can accept that all organizations have institutional biases, Fox is to the right, the others to the left. No conspiracy need exist, or secret orders from the desk of Karl Rove (or talking points from Howard Dean). Grow up.
7.12.2005 11:57pm
BigBob:
Need to respond to something a little off topic because the comment above was outrageous:

As for the gay marriage comment above, there is nothing imprecise about writing gay marriage without quotation marks. Marriage is a civil institution, but it is also separately and independently a spiritual/religious/private institution. Thus, many churches/houses-of-worship (a small minority, but still plenty) will bless same-sex unions and call them marriages. So when two gay people get married, they're often married, not "married." And, of course, there is the problem that putting the word "marriage" in quotes is an insult to the happy couple that considers itself married. You may not want to grant legal recognition to them, but we should all at least respect their private commitment and call it by the name they've given it, right? And another thing -- if a country/state prohibited interracial or interfaith marriages but a couple had a private and/or religious marriage ceremony anyway, would you tell them they should put "marriage" in quotes? Just checking for consistency. Finally, don't forget about Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands :-)

As for suicide/homicide, what if nobody dies except the bomber in a suicide attack? Then it can't be a homicide attack.
7.13.2005 12:21am
John Jenkins (mail):
That's what we would call a win/win attack.
7.13.2005 12:23am
Challenge:
Bigbob, I don't think you get my "outrageous" comment. If I say I had two friends which were married this weekend, would you know their sex? Before you would know one was a man and one was a woman. Now you don't know. This a kind of "information cost" which sometimes exists when definitions or terms change. This is not precisely the same, but it's related to Eugene's point. Marriage is now a LESS precise term.

There is also the objection that gay marriage can never be "marriage" because that is not what marriage is, by definition. That seems to me the same sort of quibbling that Eugene is engaging in with respect to "homicide bombing." I was not intending to make a statement for or against gay marriage, I was just trying to place the strict standards of language into a differnt context. We're all entitled to our preferences. I probably feel just too emotional about this because of the recent London bombings. I don't use the term, but I think it places the emphasis in the right place. They are murderers before they are "suicide bombers." Any imprecision is forgiven.

But even I had to laugh at the title "Evidence Points to Homicide Attacks" providing by one commenter above. I think that is more of a case of misusing the term than evidence that anything is wrong with the term itself, however.
7.13.2005 12:44am
CrazyTrain (mail):
If Fox gets direction from the Bush administration, does that mean that CNN, ABC, NYT, et al. get theirs from the DNC?

Yeah, because when Clinton was Prez, those outlets treated Clinton just like Fox treats Bush --- if you believe that I have a bridge I can sell you. . . .

7.13.2005 12:49am
John Jenkins (mail):
Way not to read the rest of it and thereby prove the point. I bow to your steadfast refusal to grant philosophic charity to your interlocutors and ideological enemies and your rapid transit on your eponymous conveyance. Godspeed.
7.13.2005 12:55am
CrazyTrain (mail):
Is Eugene embarassed to admit that the President who he supported is the one who came up with this idiotic term?????? Why call it Fox's innovation when it clearly was the administration's?????
7.13.2005 1:24am
KC (mail) (www):
I have a few things to say on the Homicide Bombers nonsense here.
7.13.2005 2:56am
Dem:
I don't think the gay marriage analogy really applies. Yes, gay marriage is more precise than marriage, but I don't think Eugene is arguing that one must always use the most precise term possible. His main point, IMHO, is that it "homicide bomber" is redundant. Either say "bomber" or "suicide bomber" but to replace "suicide" with "homicide" makes no sense. A more apt analogy would be if one were to replace "gay marriage" or "straight marriage" with "they-vowed-to-stay-together-until-death marriage"--it's redundant. Or if someone were to say "time-telling clock" instead of "digital clock" (perhaps because they are a super-harcore luddite?). "Time-telling" is not an accurant replacement for "digital" and is already included in the definition of clock. Likewise "homicide" is not a replacement for "suicide." "Homicide bomber" is politically correct terminology gone mad, and, unlike left-wing PC terms [which I'm no fan of either], this one is completely non-sensical.
7.13.2005 5:41am
J.T. Wenting:
At least Fox doesn't go the way of the BBC who removed all references to the word "terrorist" and it's related form "terrorism".
After all, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter.
7.13.2005 5:46am
tros (mail) (www):
It's a shame that the people who post here are to intelligent to reach the Fox proles. You have to say "homicide", because saying "suicide" implies that we should care if they killed themselves or not, which we don't. We don't care if they kill themselves. We care that they kill innocent civilians. We want to kill them because they kill innocent civilians. But we should be the ones to kill them. Killing themselves gives them the gratification of martyrdom, which we don't want them to have.

Ideally, they would throw themselves on our explosives out of sheer hopelessness and fear of our invincible American anti-evil mission. Only then could we refer to their "suicide" in good conscience. Silly liberal elitist bookworms. You should fill those big brains of yours with patriotism instead of impractical moral relativist "education". I mean, go ahead and *try* to make us less thick. We are immune to your liberal mind tricks.
7.13.2005 6:01am
A. Nonymous (mail):
Challenge, tros and others have made the point well, but I want to futher develop the idea of what the phrases focus on. What is Orwellian is not calling this sort of attack what it is and shifting the focus. This is not just one person killing themselves with an explosive. (suicide bomber). This is a person committing homicide(s) with a bomb.

The story, the important element is on the victims of the homicide, not on the person who is committing the crime. Yet "suicide bomber" places the entirety of the focus on that person's act and the impact ON HIM (or to be fair, her) with no statement as to the impact it had on others.

Of course if you want to shift the focus away from the results and concentrate solely on the criminal committing the act, "suicide bomber" works. As for me, I'm much more concerned with those who were killed by the homicide that bomber committed and want the focus on those homicides.
7.13.2005 9:43am
jurisprude:
There is also the objection that gay marriage can never be "marriage" because that is not what marriage is, by definition.

Here's what the notoriously liberal Merriam-Webster dictionary has to say on the topic:

Main Entry: mar·riage
Pronunciation: 'mer-ij, 'ma-rij
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English mariage, from Anglo-French, from marier to marry
1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage b : the mutual relation of married persons : WEDLOCK c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage
2 : an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities
3 : an intimate or close union

'Nuff said. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
7.13.2005 9:58am
Wilson (www):
The story, the important element is on the victims of the homicide, not on the person who is committing the crime. Yet "suicide bomber" places the entirety of the focus on that person's act and the impact ON HIM (or to be fair, her) with no statement as to the impact it had on others. — A. Nonymous
We already know the impact on others. "Suicide bombing" only puts the emphasis on the criminal in the same way that "roadside bomb" puts the emphasis on the criminal — by explaining the method. We could just say that 50 people died in mass transit the other day ... but don't you think it would be nice to know how they died? There are sometimes significant differences in how one has to combat suicide bombings versus other kinds of attacks.

I don't think it's true that we sympathize with the suicide. I come from a religion that (like Islam, actually) looks down on suicide in general. If anything, the idea of suicide bombing merely adds a new element to the public perception of terrorism — that of self-destruction. Isn't that how we want terrorism to be seen?
7.13.2005 10:17am
zzyz:
"Bigbob, I don't think you get my 'outrageous' comment. If I say I had two friends which were married this weekend, would you know their sex? Before you would know one was a man and one was a woman. Now you don't know. This a kind of 'information cost' which sometimes exists when definitions or terms change. This is not precisely the same, but it's related to Eugene's point. Marriage is now a LESS precise term."

So you are saying that, ten years ago if someone said two people had gotten married, you would know they were of the opposite sex; now you do not, and so there has been an information cost in the redefinition of marriage. Yet many years before that if two people got married you would know that they were of the same race. Marriage has been redefined more broadly since; that's an information cost, but is it one we care about? Probably not. So what if we can't immediately tell that your friends are male and female? "My friends got married." "Good for them [if they're of the opposite sexes only]!"?
7.13.2005 10:45am
Hank:
John Jenkins writes: "If Fox gets direction from the Bush administration, does that mean that CNN, ABC, NYT, et al. get theirs from the DNC? Alternatively, we can accept that all organizations have institutional biases, Fox is to the right, the others to the left. No conspiracy need exist, or secret orders from the desk of Karl Rove (or talking points from Howard Dean)." All organizations may have biases, but some honestly try to be objective despite their biases; Fox does not. Fox doesn't need to conspire with or take orders from Rove if its intention is to promote Rove's objectives instead of objectively to report the news.
7.13.2005 11:28am
Justin (mail):
I don't think the logic extends well at all, zzyz. All you are saying is that we cannot extend any franchise to any additional group less we dilute the meaning. Thus, abolition was bad because a "man" now could mean a "white man" or a "black man". Ending interracial marriage bans were bad because before "marriage" let you know immediately that you were dealing with two people of the same sex. Likewise, bans on abortion must be kept in place, because "person" can now mean someone born already or someone yet to be born, and that's just too darn confusing.

In other words, often there are greater interests at stake. Making a political point that didn't need to be made in the first place just doesn't qualify, at a minimum.
7.13.2005 11:33am
John Jenkins (mail):
With all due respect (1) the NYT, et al. do not attempt to be unbiased or remotely fair; (2) Objectivity in news is not possible in that your personal predilictions govern what you think is important, which is naturally what you're going to report on. Imputing malice to people you disagree with is the first step to dehumanizing them. I'd prefer to keep the debate civil.
7.13.2005 12:24pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail):
Eugene's clearly right about "suicide/homicide bomber."

A mental-global-search-and-replace that had slightly less absurd consequences, but that seemed to happen several times on TV over the 1990s, was the replacement of "black" with "African-American." This led to Nelson Mandela being the first African-American leader of South Africa, and Olympic athletes from Africa being referred to as "African-American... from Africa!" by TV correspondents.
7.13.2005 12:37pm
James Kabala (mail):
Maybe the best term would be something like "suicide attack." "Attack" implies the existence of victims, and I most people could figure out that a bomb was involved.
7.13.2005 1:04pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
The only argument given against using the term "suicide bomber" is the claim that it lacks certain desirable connotations (people are murdered) or contains some undesirable connotations (the bomber is an innocent martyr). Whether or not this claim is true cannot be determined by intellectually examining the phrase. Rather, the issue is an empirical one about how people understand the phrase when they read it.

It is true that the MSM uses a lot of misleading propaganda language. But I believe that "suicide bomber", for almost all readers, has all of the desirable connotations and none of the undesirable ones.
7.13.2005 1:54pm
Dem:
I still haven't seen any of the right-wing PC-ers on here explain how "homicide" is a reasonable substitute for "suicide." The term "suicide bomb" explains how an attack was carried out, and to imply that people who use it are somehow overly sympathetic to terrorists is the height of absurdity. In the aftermath of an attack like the one in London, one of the most pertinent facts is whether the attack was carried out by a "suicide" bomber or by through a bomb on a timer (or remote device, etc.) If an attack is carried out by a suicide bomb then the bomber is dead and not still on the loose. If a bomb was set off in my neighborhood, the one of the first things I'd want to know is whether the nut who set it off was still on the loose or whether killed himself in the process (ie, a "suicide bomber"). "Suicide" bomb also indicates how desparate a killer is and what can be done to help stop future bombs. Surely the police and security strategy in stopping a suicide bomb is much different than stopping a bomb on a timer. A "suicide bomber" is much more dangerous than a regular bomber because he or she does is willing to die to carry out the attack. But some commenters (and the right wing word police at the White House and Fox News, etc.) are so concerned with their own myopic and twisted terminology that they won't say "suicide bomber" even when it clearly conveys relevant information. If one of you "homicide bomber" defenders can explain to me how that term is an adequate substitute for "suicide bomber," I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, why not just admit that in some circumstances, the word "suicide" is necessary to explain how an attack was carried out.

BTW--"None's" comment was hilarious. I'm a big wrestling fan myself... the thought of an announcer saying "international object" cracked me up.
7.13.2005 2:07pm
Challenge:
It is unfortunate that people choose to defend gay marriage instead of just taking my point for what its worth. It is a point about language, how it changes, and how there are often information costs as a result of those changes.

Confusion abounds: One commenter says that the term "homicide bomber" is "nonsensical" but doesn't take the two seconds to realize that under many people's perspective, gay "marriage" is similarly nonsensical. Another commenter points to an online definition of merriam webster, citing gay marriage is now included. Oh boy, does this mean if "homicide bomber" is in the dictionary you will stop your petty quibbling? I don't think so. Just as "homicide" means something to you (and you're unwilling to expand it), so does "marriage" mean something specific to others (and they're unwilling to expand it). Someone points out that it's silly to get wrapped up in language instead of substance. Yes, that's the point. I agree!

I don't see the same imprecision as Eugene. The new term adds some information, while taking some out. What is added was formerly implicit, and what is taken out was formerly explicit. "Suicide bomber" does not mention the victims. A "successful suicide bomber" is one who at least kills one other individual. Not exactly the terminology I'd prefer. Usually, people would say something like, "there was a suicide bomber in Israel today." Why is the fact they killed people implicit? Why can't the fact they're a suicide bomber be implicit instead? It's not really a matter of one term being "nonsensical" or imprecise, it's rather a matter of familiarity with one term and not the other.
7.13.2005 3:07pm
jurisprude:
Another commenter points to an online definition of merriam webster, citing gay marriage is now included. Oh boy, does this mean if "homicide bomber" is in the dictionary you will stop your petty quibbling?

Of course not. "Suicide bomber" isn't even in the dictionary.
7.13.2005 3:14pm
Gary McGath (www):
Many years ago, before computers were used to set type, the Reader's Digest ran an anecdote about an editor who objected to the word "stay," and insisted it must always be "stop" or "remain." This resulted in the editing of a passage so that it referred to "a woman trying to adjust her remains."

Um ... what are stays, anyway? :)
7.13.2005 3:16pm
Challenge:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=suicide%20bomber

Now we'll probably argue what is a "dictionary." =)
7.13.2005 3:20pm
jurisprude:
Main Entry: dic·tio·nary
Pronunciation: 'dik-sh&-"ner-E
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nar·ies
Etymology: Medieval Latin dictionarium, from Late Latin diction-, dictio word, from Latin, speaking
1 : a reference book containing words usually alphabetically arranged along with information about their forms, pronunciations, functions, etymologies, meanings, and syntactical and idiomatic uses
2 : a reference book listing alphabetically terms or names important to a particular subject or activity along with discussion of their meanings and applications
3 : a reference book giving for words of one language equivalents in another
4 : a list (as of items of data or words) stored in a computer for reference (as for information retrieval or word processing)
7.13.2005 3:46pm
Dem:
Challenge, the term is nonsensical when used as aa substitute for "suicide bomber." Are you so ideological that you can't admit this basic point? Perhaps "homicide bomb" might add the otherwise implicit information that the bomb killed people in limited circumstances, but usually its completely unnecessary (ie, "28 people were killed in a homicide bombing" is more simply stated: "28 people were killed in a bombing.") In any event, the problem is not with the phrase "homicide bomber" as such but with its development and use as a substitution for "suicide bomber." Homicide bomber is a nonsensical substitute for suicide bomber but that's how its most often used. Fox, etc. etc. pushes the phrase as substitute for suicide bomb and not as a general way to describe bombings in which someone is killed. Eugene's example above demonstrates this precise problem.

To summarize the argument so that it is not such a challenge for Challenge: "homicide bomber" is nonsensical as a substitute for "suicide bomber" and it is usually redudant when used to describe a regular (non-suicide) bombing (ie, in the "28 people were killed..." example.) Therefore, it should not be used in those contexts.
7.13.2005 5:00pm
markm (mail):
"Homicide" is already contained in "bombing". Or more precisely, unless you're talking about an attack from the air in a war, "murder" is contained in "bombing". (Not all homicides are murders.) "Homicide bombing" is no more informative than "bombing".

The distinction between suicide and non-suicide bombings is important. You don't stop suicide bombers by X-raying luggage or watching for unattended packages - you stop them by checking people. It shouldn't be that hard to profile for losers that are planning to blast themselves into Muslim heaven...

As for the connotations of "suicide", anyone who sees that as implying a glorious martyr rather than a miserable desperate loser is already firmly on the other side.
7.13.2005 5:29pm
Challenge:
"Homicide" is already contained in "bombing".

Is it really? Bombing only includes the possibility of homicide, to be technical. Just as "homicide bombing" includes the possibility of suidicide attack. At the end of the day, it's just a matter of preference.
7.13.2005 5:59pm
Flynn:
Al-Jazeera calls suicide/homicide bombers "human bombs." This gets around some of the psychological tenderness associated with suicide. The bombers make themselves weapons and are thus distinguished from their victims.
7.13.2005 6:33pm
Dem:
Challenge, does your silence in response to my question imply that you are willing to agree that "homicide" is not an adequate substitute for "suicide"? If so, why isn't "suicide bomber" an appropriate term? It's not "just a matter of preference"--if I want to communicate to someone that the perpetrator of an explosive attack intentionally killed himself in the process, "suicide bomber" is the best term. Yes, "homicide bomb" includes the possibility of a suicide, just as "time-telling clock" includes the possibility that the clock is digital. But, if I want to tell someone it's a digital clock, I'll say "digital" and not "time-telling." Similarly, if I want to tell someone the bomber committed suicide, I'll say "suicide bomb." Are you so blinded by Rush and Hannity that you can't accept this?
7.13.2005 7:31pm
Challenge:
I don't think repeating "nonsensical" is much of an argument, no. I also don't like to feed trolls. It's not meant to be a perfect substitute. That is kind of the point. =)
7.13.2005 9:48pm
D Wollenberg (mail):
Eugene says that the term came back into common use in mid-April 2002. I am almost certain that this is due to Leon Wieseltier's use of the term in a TNR column:

www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020415&s=wieseltier041502

It seemed to flourish as a term shortly after this article, with credit sometimes being attributed to him. Interest in it then seemed to fade.
7.14.2005 3:09pm