11 August 2011

Write What You Mean, Mean What You Say

During tactical pauses from writing and research on all things Red Bull this summer, I've distilled an ever-growing stylesheet down to some particularly pithy points. While most of these pet peeves apply writing to as a civilian, at least one regards official mil-writing Style. Enjoy!

Combat soldier: At some basic level, all troops are trained and equipped to ... let's see, how to put this diplomatically? Oh yeah: "To hurt people and break things." Yes, even doctors and medics. That's why the term "combat soldier" is redundant and silly and redundant. And an insult to soldiers.

Combat operations: File this Orwellian term in the wastebasket of history, along with "police action." Soldiers in Iraq are still in harm's way, despite declarations that combat operations are complete.

Crash: If an aircraft falls to the ground because it was shot down by a weapon, is the event still accurately described as a "crash"? Perhaps "attack" is a better word-choice.

Gun: An artillery piece. If describing anything else, big or small, be specific: "rifle," "pistol," "machine gun," etc.

I.E.D.: There's no avoiding "Improvised Explosive Device" as both the signature threat of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but do avoid the dehumanizing word-soup of RCIED, VBIED, VOIED, and the like. By the way, "improvised mine" also works as a description. There's no "IED" in "M-RAP," is there?

Killed: Not "K.I.A." Not "passed away." Not "died as a result of his/her wounds." Don't slip down the sugary slope of good intentions and happy unicorn language. The dead deserve more respect than that.

M-RAP: It's a "Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected" vehicle. It's an adjective, not a noun. And it's a generic term, not a brand name.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.): If you don't have a medical, law enforcement, or family source indicating that a given individual has been diagnosed with PTSD, don't fall into the trap of making the diagnosis yourself. In other words: Veteran arrested on intoxication, domestic abuse, weapons and/or other charges does not automatically equal a diagnosis of PTSD. If you do mention PTSD in news content, make sure to include concrete descriptions of symptoms and behaviors, as well as contact information and resources available. At all costs, avoid contributing to the "all soldiers come back with mental health issues" stereotype.

Roadside bomb: If the explosive device went off underneath a vehicle, it can't be said to have been located at the side of the road, can it?

Soldier: Despite what your sergeant major or public affairs officer says, no one who uses English outside of the Army capitalizes "soldier" on all references. It makes you look Stupid.

Suicide vest: Is the intent of the wearer more to blow him- or herself up, or to inflict injury or kill others? If the latter, consider "explosive vest." Here it is in a sentence: "The bomber wore an explosive vest."

Utilize: Means "to use in a way other than originally intended or designed." Use it correctly. In most cases, soldiers will not.

Warrior: "Soldier" is fine, thank you. Anything else is hype or bluster.


  1. Gun... an ex-boyfriend (Navy) taught me an interesting ditty about calling a sidearm a "Gun"... So I try to avoid using the word in case it offends someone.

    So thank you for clarifying that :)


  2. Ok. You got me on Soldier and at least one other thing. Your style sheet has been printed and affixed to the wall by my computer.

    I disagree with utilize, though. Soldiers utilize things all the time.

    Nicole, Paws & Effect

  3. You got ME on soldier as well. I thought I was giving them due respect because I always see Marine capitalized. What's the difference?

    Thanks for the clarifications!

    Nancy Davin
    My Yellow Ribbon

  4. I disagree that IED is unavoidable. I spell it "b-o-m-b." (Especially since a lot of these devices are being made elsewhere, then delivered to the guys setting the ambush. Is that really "improvised"?) You have a point about "roadside," however.

  5. Thanks, all! I'm glad that my snarky take on language was taken with the proverbial two shakers of salt. And, as usual, your feedback will help make my next draft/attempt even better!

    @ Nicole. Roger! My point on "utilize" is that it's typically over-utiliized by military personnel. I mean, "over-used."

    @ Tony: I've been thinking "improvised" is still usually accurate, provided the builders have utilized materials such as artillery shells or fertilizer in a bomb's construction.

  6. Ah, Sherpa!! I love when you write like this. :-D No silly redundant for you Mr. Soldier! If only you COULD get the special forces dogs to talk to you. You could probably get a lot of good stuff for your style sheet and some really good stories.


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