The Words That Matter: Terminology and Performance in the U.S. Army
Wicker, Elena Carol
This dissertation explores the history and uses of U.S. military terminology, jargon, and buzzwords. Drawing on bureaucratic, sociological, and linguistic literatures, I build a theory for understanding the functional and performative applications of U.S. military jargon. My core argument is that jargon and terminology are means by which actors can access existing systems of distribution for economic, social, cultural, and symbolic capital within the U.S. military field. New term introduction is a tool for setting conditions to restructure those systems within the field. First, I build a historical narrative of U.S. military lexicography through the history of military dictionaries published by individuals, the U.S. Army, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 1779 to today. Treating these dictionaries as data, this study demonstrates the fallacy of a common belief about military terminology: that it is expanding. While codified military jargon originally increases, this trend reverses in 2000 and begins a two-decade decrease in the quantity of officially codified military terminology. Using U.S. Army future concepts and doctrine as case studies to analyze the contraction of Army terminology, I demonstrate how rates of jargon introduction continue to rise rapidly, yet fewer terms are surviving to codification in doctrine. To become codified terminology, new terms must survive the “games” of the drafting process, reactance and evasion strategies from actors within the field, and the requirements of doctrinal genre and style. This analysis builds a typology of elements of military language, clarifies the history and importance of military terminology, illuminates civil-military conflict and negotiation around official lexicons, and describes capital-driven linguistic strategies employed by entities within the U.S. Department of Defense. Lastly it describes the externalities of technical language: labeling effects, semantic shifts, and the rebellious compliance of “buzzword bingo.” This study contributes a historical understanding of U.S. military terminology and its role in efforts to change structures and approaches in the U.S. Army, as well as new corpora of U.S. military dictionaries, U.S. Army concepts and doctrine, and novel approaches to the analysis of military jargon.
Embargo Lift Date
MetadataShow full item record
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.