Tuesday, August 02, 2005


The recent announcement of an end to the "armed struggle" in Northern Ireland/ 6 Counties (word choice depends on your political outlook) has led to some interesting terms being bandied about by a range of people. Many of these are fascinating to look at because of their inventive morphology, but others are just interesting for their clear intention to hide real meaning and obfuscate the truth.

Take "normalisation" for example: ostensibly this is a term to describe the process of make life normal in Northern Ireland, but why "normalisation" (the "isation" suffix suggesting it's a noun describing the process of making normal)? Why not "renormalisation" suggesting that it's a process of returning life to normal? Or would that suggest life has ever been normal?

Then there's "demilitarisation": its root word word seems to be "military", and then you've got "militarise" (to turn into having military qualities), "militarisation" (the process of turning something into having military qualities) and finally "demilitarisation" (the opposite of this process). So what if you're like the Rev Ian Paisley and opposed to this (and well, everything else by the sound of it...), then you might be an "antidemilitarisationist". I could think of other, shorter, words to describe him but this is a family (sorry, college) blog!

And how about "jihadist" or "jihadi"? What a great combination of loan words and morphological madness. Jihad (from the Arabic "to exert or struggle") is given an English twist with the addition of the "-ist" suffix (meaning someone who "does jihad") or an Italian twist (I might be wrong) with the "-i" suffix. On top of that, there's been a semantic shift among many users to specifically denote "jihad" as some kind of violent struggle, while others cling to its more metaphorical meaning. Meanwhile the Arabic language actually has a word for this type of person "Mujahid" (according to the ever-helpful Wikipedia online encyclopedia). Again, I can think of many other, shorter and much ruder, words to describe such demented fundamentalists but once again, family blog and all that ...

All this is before we even get onto the subject of the word "terrorist" and what it means. "Freedom fighter"? "Member of teh armed struggle against an oppressive regime"? "Murderer"?

I suppose what this goes to show is that our language is flexible enough to chop and change words, with prefixes, suffixes and even infixes, as well as pilfering them from other languages. One loan word I find hard to get my head round is "alcohol", which is apparently taken from Arabic again. But considering that Muslims don't drink, I can't see how we got it. But of course, very thankful to them for letting us "borrow" it.

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