Language Matters: The (lack of) Sept. 11th Vocabulary

In the days after the September 11 attacks, they were described as the event that defined a generation and as the new Pearl Harbor.  But have they, and the resulting war on terror that followed, left any other kind of linguistic legacy?

No Language Legacy: Where’s The Sept. 11 Vocab? (NPR, 7 Sept 2011)

Often, the effect of an event or a movement can be almost directly measured by the number of new words it introduces to our lexicon.  The Internet, for example, has given us “blog,” “webinar,” “LOL,” and “google,” just to name a few.

But 9/11, supposedly one of the most game-changing events in the last decade, seems to have left no such linguistic trace.

Compare this to WWII, which brought about many words we don’t even realize came from that time period, like blockbuster, bloodbath, and blitz.  Or the Vietnam War, which coined the phrases, “stay the course,” and “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Of course, those wars were more visible in society than the war on terror.  WWII especially, when nearly everyone had a family member in the military and women were flocking to fill the open jobs.  Those wars hit us at home.

The only real lasting phrase from the war on terror, ironically, comes from the fact that this war hasn’t had much of an effect on us in our everyday lives.  It’s even become a running joke when discussing the way we live.

“If I don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, the terrorists win.”

“If I don’t take that vacation to the beach, the terrorists win.”

“If I change anything about my life because of this war, the terrorists win.”

Looking only at the changes to language over the last decade, it’s clear that the proliferation of the Internet has affected the way we speak in a vastly more direct and influential way than the September 11th attacks.  Not that we don’t remember that tragedy or honor its memory — we do.

We just don’t talk about it that much.

What do you think?  Do you know of any 9/11-related phrases that aren’t mentioned?  How have the events of September 11th changed your life?

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