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Thursday, June 30, 2005

The 'G' Word

I have a request. 

It may sound nit-picky and small-minded, and maybe even a tad stuck-up... but I have to ask anyway:

Would all the journalists, bloggers, pundits and other public/semi-public personages who didn't serve in the US military... specifically in the Marines or Navy (although I'll give you a pass if you served at all)... please stop referring to the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as 'Gitmo'.

I know, I know, it seems like such a small thing, and everyone seems to be doing it these days, but the truth is it simply makes you sound silly... and it makes me cringe. Hell, since I served in the Pacific fleet, I've never felt comfortable using the term 'Gitmo'!

Do you remember when 'NYPD Blue' was at the height of its popularity and people who weren't cops started peppering their conversations with police jargon and slang?  Well, while I imagine that policemen/women around the country were grateful that they were finally being portrayed fairly realistically (as compared with pretty much every other cop show/movie that had ever been made), I'll bet they were privately cringing whenever a non-cop would ask them "So, how long you been 'on the job'?", or "So who do you 'like' for the stabbing last week in Washington Square Park?".

I know a few 60's and 70's era veterans who cringe every time they hear people who never came within 1000 miles of South East Asia talking about 'Nam', estimating distances in 'kliks' or referring to our opponents in that particular conflict as 'Charlie'. 

Folks who live in the Bay area of central California are equally impatient (to put it mildly) with people from elsewhere who use expressions like 'Hella good' or 'Frisco' (I'm not sure if people from San Francisco ever actually said 'Frisco'!).

And don't don't even get me started on how the Rap community must cringe when people with no 'street cred' (like me) start talkin' 'smack' about someone's 'crib', yo.  Word!

I know that 'U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba' is a mouthful to say, and a handful to type... but I can't help thinking that there must be another way of referring to the place without sounding like a total poseur / Marine wannabe.

Never let it be said that I simply criticize and don't offer solutions! 

I'm pretty sure that if people said, "... the Muslim prisoners being held in Cuba", it would be instantly understood who and where we were talking about since, to my knowledge, Castro doesn't presently have too many Muslims in the hoosegow!

Please note that the term 'Cuba' has the same number of syllables as 'Gitmo', and is technically and geographically correct in nearly any context that the media (and those who discuss current events) are currently using the 'G' word.

So please... pretty please... if you find yourself discussing or writing about current events and/or security detainees, please try to just say 'Cuba'.  Everyone will know what you mean, and you won't sound like you've watched 'A few good men' one too many times.


That is all.

Posted by David Bogner on June 30, 2005 | Permalink


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Hi, David.

As a newspaper journalist, I can tell you that simply saying "being held in Cuba" is too vague for most publications, at least for the first reference in an article. It is too easy for a reader who is just coming into the story to understand that the prisoners are being held BY cuba, ie the Cuban govt.

One could say "being held at a US Naval base in Cuba."

Or, even better, at first reference say 'U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba' and then after that, PERHAPS, one could be forgiven for just saying "Cuba."

Have a great day.


Posted by: Sarah | Jun 30, 2005 12:33:10 PM

No one from San Francisco ever calls it "Frisco" (that was actually hard to even type.) Mostly, they call it "The City", which is a title shared only with New York (within the US at least) as far as I know.

Actually, it can be funny how visitors from SF to NY, or the other way around, will still say they're from "the city" even when it means something else entirely locally.

You brought me back to my youth with "hella":

We used that all the time. But for coolness, "hella" doesn't stand a chance against "wicked" from Boston...

Posted by: Dave | Jun 30, 2005 12:46:47 PM

This morning a colleague (from the [Automobile] Parts Department) walks up to my desk and goes “Hey, I need the best machine around, how many 'gigz' are we 'working with'’!”, *(curling my toes and biting my teeth!)* what the hell was that?! he obviously meant that he needed a good computer and wanted it's specifications....is that so hard to say?

Posted by: kakarizz | Jun 30, 2005 1:05:07 PM

Random midwesterners saying "hella good" is Gwen Stefani's fault, just like random midwesterners saying "wicked good" (which is much cooler) is Matt Damon's fault.

And I use 'klicks' any time I'm driving in a country that uses kilometers, but I had no idea it was a military term.

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 30, 2005 2:44:09 PM

That drives me crazy too! Having been in the Army, there are certain terms that people say that burn a fire in my soul : calling Humvees (when they're clearly being used as an Army vehicle, not a modern day mortgage on wheels) Hummers, calling the M-16 rifle a 'machine gun'.


Posted by: Fran | Jun 30, 2005 4:01:53 PM

Can we still use "G*tmo" if it is poetically necessary? It has alliterative value at times:

Gitmo guards...
Gulag at Gitmo...

Stuff like that. Maybe it's just too serious a topic and I shouldn't make light of it, but I do.

I think you might be fighting a losing battle though. As media, blogs especially, expose people to an ever-wider vocabulary, certain terms are going to bust-out into popular usage, whether their originators like it or not. Sometimes people are proud and pleased. Sometimes not.

I know as a former Physics major, it bugs the heck out of me when people walk around talking about "eigenvalue" this and "wave-function" that.

Posted by: AbbaGav | Jun 30, 2005 4:44:42 PM

total poseur / Marine wannabe.

Who wants to sound like a squid anyway. Walking off whistling...

Posted by: Jack | Jun 30, 2005 4:45:27 PM

Sarah... Since they buy ink by the barrel, I think Newspapers can afford to write out the whole name of the place (at least the first time around, as you suggested). My problem is when reporters who have never seen the inside of a uniform try to affect military slang.

Dave... I never thought about it, but you're right... I used to always call NYC 'the city', even when I was halfway around the world. How presumptuous is that? :-)

Kakarizz... The urge to sound hip (and the tendency to fail miserably) must be an international shortcoming. :-

Tanya... Thanks for the mental image of farm boys and girls trying to affect a New England accent! :-) As to 'kliks' instead of kilometers, I've never heard a non-vietnam vet pull it off convincingly... although you might just be the exception! :-)

Fran... What you're talking about is another problem that gets me down; the misuse of buzz words and terminology. It's one of the reasons I don't go to see movies about the military very much. I know that at some point in the film, someone is going to say or do something that a real soldier/sailor would never do/say and my 'willing suspension of disbelief' will go sailing out the window for the remainder of the film.

Posted by: David | Jun 30, 2005 4:45:49 PM

Yo yo, homie! Wha's up and sh!t? Can't say "Gitmo"? You da boss of me? Step of my d!ck befo I bust a cap in yo @ss. Gitmo gitmo gitmo! The word to yo' mama is Gitmo!

Ahem. I'd like to apologize for that. I'm now going to put on my tie and go to work. I hope my wife, who I love very much, made me a lunch.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jun 30, 2005 5:07:55 PM

AbbaGav... No, the best is when people misuse the term lightyear as if it were a unit of time rather than distance (e.g. "It will take him lightyears to finish that report!") [cringe]

Jack... Perhaps you meant 'Jarhead', 'Gyreen', 'leatherneck', 'grunt', or some other similar term. 'Squids' are sailors. :-)

Doctor Bean... Just so you don't use the 'B' word while inquiring whether Ball & Chain made you your lunch. :)

Posted by: David | Jun 30, 2005 5:26:51 PM

Jack... Perhaps you meant 'Jarhead', 'Gyreen', 'leatherneck', 'grunt', or some other similar term. 'Squids' are sailors. :-)

Now you wouldn't want me to lie would you. ;)

One of these days I'll blog about the disagreement my fraternity had with the campus jarheads.

I'll leave you with this nugget. When I was 20 I helped educate a couple of Jarheads about whether a Jew had to be one of those Israelis to be tough. Now there are many many people in this world who are capable to taking me apart and leaving me in pieces, but these fellows were not among that crowd.

It is never smart to taunt a group of Jewish men with bagels because you just don't know what can happen.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 30, 2005 5:59:05 PM

OK, I never heard the term Jarhead used until Dave asked me why the hot oboe player at the Brass Conference gave me a hug that went on a tad too long was dating "that jarhead." I reminded him that I was married...oh wait...he reminded me that I was married.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jun 30, 2005 6:21:23 PM

OK, I never heard the term Jarhead used until Dave asked me why the hot oboe player at the Brass Conference that gave me a hug that went on a tad too long was dating "that jarhead." I reminded him that I was married...oh wait...he reminded me that I was married.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jun 30, 2005 6:22:07 PM

Oh, and yes Shmiel, they were.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jun 30, 2005 6:23:20 PM

I worked on weapons systems (electronic countermeasures) for the Dept. of Navy (as a civilian) for 5 years and during that time I have never heard so many acronyms in my life. I worked on AEGIS, SLDCADA, ILSMIS for NAVSEA, NAVSUP, etc. so until I read your post I just assumed GITMO was another acronym. Glad you pointed this out.

Posted by: Stacey | Jun 30, 2005 6:38:48 PM

How many lightyears do we have to wait for Phat Photo Friday, Holmes?


(note the baseball cap with the brim backwards and the intimidating scowl, 'cause I'm a gangsta)

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 1, 2005 7:21:38 AM

I never say "Gitmo." I never use "disrespect" as a verb. Also, I forgot to make Doctor Bean a lunch. Confession is good for the soul.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Jul 1, 2005 7:42:49 AM

Jack... Sounds like they had it coming.

Jordan... Just so we both remember the sequence of events properly. ;-)

Stacey... Wow... I'm learning all kinds of new and impressive things about you! Here I was thinking that you were just some Texas housewife who happened to write really well. :-)

Doctor Bean... You straight trippin', boo!

Ball and Chain... Too funny. Although in a quick glance around the blogosphere, you seem to be the only person not using the word 'Gitmo'. [sigh]

Posted by: David | Jul 2, 2005 9:33:37 PM

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