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In a review of the game Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw goes on at length about what a ridiculous word "warfighter" is ("Medal of Honor Warfighter & Doom 3 BFG Edition", Zero Punctuation 11/7/2012):

So this week I've been playing a bit of Medal of Honor: Warfighter {laughs}  Sometimes I do a thing where I incrementally alter a game's name each time I say it until it's something stupid, but I'm feeling pretty fucking undercut here — you know, "Warfighter", because he just fights wars all over the place, and then he gets his tax return done by his friend Numbers Accountant.  I don't know anyone who didn't immediately laugh at this fucking name, so why didn't anyone involved in its development put their hand up, or is that a flogging offense in the EA slave pits?

He continues in the same general vein for few dozen clauses, and throughout his review, he makes a point of emitting a loud fake laugh whenever he mentions the game's name. But I thought I'd stop with his question "Why didn't anyone involved in its development put their hand up?", because even though he means this to be a rhetorical question, in fact it has an easy answer.

The reason that no one involved in the game's development objected to the word "warfighter" is that the U.S. Defense Department has used "warfighter" as a standard term for military personnel since the late 1980s or early 1990s: Thus Earl L. Wiener et al., Eds. Human Factors in Aviation, 1988:

At the Warfighter Readiness Research Division of the AFRL’s Human Effectiveness Directorate we have a research program focused on mathematical and computational cognitive process modeling for replicating, understanding, and predicting human performance and learning. [AFRL = Air Force Research Laboratory]

Or "Air Force improves communications between labs, warfighters", Aerospace Daily 9/16/1992:

The Air Force has increased the responsiveness of its science and technology program by improving communications between its warfighting commanders and its laboratories, the head of AF Materiel Command said yesterday.

Or William S. Cohen, Report of the Quadriennial Defense Review, 6/1/1997:

Our military forces and operations are changing dramatically in response to the changing security environment and advances in technology. The way we support the warfighter must also change. The Department must be leaner, more efficient, and more cost effective in order to serve the warfighter faster, better, and cheaper.

U.S. Department of Defense, Future Logistics Enterprise: A Way Ahead, Internal Document of the Joint Logistics Board, 9/27/2002 (quoted in Thomas R. Gulledge et al., “Using ARIS to Deisgn the Future Logistics Enterprise”, in August-Wilhelm Scheer et al., Eds., Business Process Change Management: ARIS in Practice 2003):

The primary intent of the FLE is to accelerate the DoD’s implementation of the integrated logistics chains and commercial information systems to meet warfighter sustainment needs and the operational requirements of the National Defense Strategy. The FLE is focused on those mid-term policy, process, and systems changes the DoD must make in order to continue to effectively support our warfighting customers.

Searching Darpa's current web site for warfighter turns up many examples that are a bit closer to the point of the spear, so to speak — here are a few examples that wouldn't be out of place in a military FPS game:

The amount of equipment and gear carried by today’s dismounted warfighter can exceed 100 pounds, as troops conduct patrols for extended periods over rugged and hilly terrain. […] The Warrior Web program seeks to develop the technologies required to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries caused by dynamic events typically found in the warfighter’s environment.

Warfighters need to be able to see and identify threats at as great a distance as possible.  Binoculars have not yet integrated the technology or biology that could help maximize this capability.  The Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System program will bring these technologies to develop soldier-portable visual threat detection devices.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency designed, built and is fielding a technology demonstration that may help limit the impacts of TBI by determining the severity of a blast to which a warfighter has been exposed. The DARPA Blast Gauge is to provide medical personnel with a quantitative measurement of a warfighter’s exposure level, allowing better assessment of the potential for blast-related injuries and the treatment required for each individual soldier.

What's the reason for the popularity of this term? A 2003 NYT article about combat rations (Jonathan Reynolds, “Ration-al Thinking”, NYT 3/16/2003) explains the background:

"Warfighter" is the militarily correct term to spare the service from writing out "soldier, sailor, marine, airman and airwoman" every time. Would that we civilians had a similar term for "he and she."

"Warfighter" also emphasizes the role of military personnel in combat as opposed to support activities. You might have noticed that the DARPA quotes use soldier a couple of times ("soldier-portable visual threat detection"; "the treatment required for each individual soldier"). I believe that this is technically incorrect, though rhetorically convenient, since in U.S. DoD parlance, soldier should refer only to Army personnel, not (for example) to members of the Marine Corps. Update — as fev points out in the comments, William Safire discussed this point in the NYT ("Warrior", 8/26/2007):

The word warrior is winning its battle against fighter, soldier, servicemember, troops, even the most belligerent combatants.

We don’t refer to individuals in our armed forces as soldiers so often these days because that leaves out sailors, marines and airmen. […]

The Defense Department’s official solution to the name for all its personnel is servicemember, a reach for inclusiveness that cannot be criticized, but it smacks of officialese, is too long for a headline and has not caught on in everyday speech.

Nor do we hear “our fighters in Iraq” with any frequency, because that word has long been associated with the boxing ring. Speakers of Pentagonese tried warfighters for a while, but that locution’s usage war is lost. […]

Troops presents plural difficulties. One troop is a group. When you say “two troops,” do you mean two military units or two individuals? When we say “send in the troops,” we usually mean large numbers, but when speaking of two or three members of our armed forces, we say soldiers or special forces or whatever branch of the armed services they serve in. One person is not a troop.

Combatant is seeing a great deal of use, but usually in the sense of suspected terrorists under guard, many insisting they are noncombatants. In the era of unconventional, “hybrid” warfare, rarely is combatant used positively; it is what you are charged with being, not what you claim to be. Although we hear “good soldier,” we don’t hear “good combatant.”

Into the synonymy fray steps warrior.

I think Bill was too hasty in announcing the failure of "warfighter(s)". A search of the current DARPA web site, for example, turns up 39 pages with "warrior|warriors", compared to 226 pages with "warfighter(s)". I haven't done a systematic check, but I have the impression that warfighter has an implication of direct involvement in combat which warrior sometimes lacks. An interesting recent illustration of the available options can be found in Maureen Dowd, "Listen to McCain (Mrs.)", NYT 12/4/2010:

Even after a Pentagon report showing that most troops and their families think that allowing gays and lesbians to be themselves would not be a big deal, even after the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the Senate to repeal the law that demands dishonesty, Democrats were still fending off a snarling John McCain and a few unreconstructed Southerners.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the committee, was eager to show that a gay soldier could be just as lethal as a straight one. He read a quote from the Pentagon report: “As one Special Operations force warfighter told us, ‘We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.’ ”

Levin read the quote to Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marines, who are the most resistant to gays serving openly. “I don’t doubt,” the general replied, “that at any given base or combat outpost that we’ll find men and women that are out there just exactly like that Special Operations soldier, Marine, sailor, whoever he was.” [emphasis added]

MoDo uses "troops" and "soldier"; the Pentagon report uses "Special Operations force warfighter"; Gen. Amos uses "Special Operations soldier, Marine, sailor, whoever he was".


  1. GeorgeW said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 6:46 am

    I fail to see what objection (linguistic) anyone could have to this word. It distinguishes someone who fights in war from those who fight for other reasons or causes (boxing, cancer, crime, etc.). And, as noted, it encompasses the various military branches.

    On a related topic, it seems to me that the term 'warrior' has gained popularity of late (recency allusion?). It seems to carry a more positive connotation that words like 'soldier' and the like. I think it also implies that the person has served in combat.

  2. Ø said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    I haven't noticed the word "warfighter", but I have noticed and wondered about "warfighting" (the usefulness of which, by the way, cannot be explained the same way).

  3. David S. said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 8:05 am

    Because it's a long compound piece of jargon to replace words that have long established themselves in the English language. Soldier or warrior work just fine, unless your dialect has specialized those words until they can't be used for the general meaning.

    [(myl) This is not a matter of "dialect" but of officially prescribed usage, reinforced by popular norms within the relevant comunities. As this post explains,

    United States Marines do not like to be called soldiers. Unless you wish to incur their wrath, refer to them as Marines (usually capitalized). Members of the U.S. Army and National Guard are soldiers. Members of the Air Force are airmen. Members of the Navy are sailors.

    So "soldier" definitely doesn't work. I suppose that "warrior" might have been chosen as a generic term — and it's sometimes used that way — but that's not what happened. The choice might rub you the wrong way, but that's what happens sometimes, and you can either learn to live with it or go around mumbling darkly about jargon.]

  4. Yet another John said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    While we're talking about useful semi-technical distinctions, my sense is that "warrior" and "soldier" have an important difference in denotation, not just connotation.

    "Soldier" — someone who is, by profession, a member of the armed forces of a society. This implies that the society has a sufficient level of stratification and vocational specialization that one can identify oneself as a full-time soldier (while being interdependent on other sectors of the society — the governing class, the laboring class who manufactures your arms, etc.)

    "Warrior" — can refer to fighters in any society, including in ones "below the military horizon" (which do not consider soldiering to be a separate specialized vocation). IANASA (I Am Not A Social Anthropologist), but I understand that it was (and still is) common in hunter/gatherer societies that *every* fit male would be considered a (potential) warrior and consequently judged by his fighting abilities.

    Calling a soldier a "warrior" sounds a little odd to me personally, but I can see how it could have positive connotations since it resonates with some ancestral, pre-Roman concept of an idealized fighter.

    [(myl) "Soldier" has its own quasi-figurative uses — Mafia soldiers, soldier ants, dead soldiers. But anyhow, the definition "someone who is, by profession, a member of the armed forces of a society" doesn't work here, because in the U.S. Miltary, members of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are NOT "soldiers".]

  5. Henning Makholm said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 8:36 am

    Doesn't "warrior" come with some definite connotations of belonging to a primitive society?

    "Soldier", on the other hand, seems to be a perfectly good word — were it not for the strange affliction that the personnel of one branch of the military cannot possibly share a common noun with other branches. If you're in a culture that insists on the essential difference between the branches, it seems to be natural to make sure that any catch-all word you adopt has to be so clunky and unwieldy that nobody would use it when it can possibly be avoided.

  6. Faldone said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 8:58 am

    I wonder: If someone who is serving actively in the US Army but has spent an entire career pushing a pencil around in the Pentagon can be called a soldier, can that same person be called a warfighter/warrior?

  7. /df said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 9:02 am

    What about "firefight"?
    Can't people say shoot-out, gun battle, or just exchange of fire?
    I find I have to banish the image of flamethrowers when "firefight" is used.

    [(myl) Why doesn't "exchange of fire" make you think of flamethrowers? How about "ready, aim, fire"?]

  8. Chris said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    I'm a bit disappointed that you, as a linguist, just accept the marines' (i.m.o. chilish) insistence on that the common word 'soldier' doesn't apply to them. This entry and Croshaw's post are good examples of how it prevents the use of language that would be natural and understood by everyone, and forces the use of clunky nelogisms that do nothing but confuse and annoy. The marines' prescribism ought to be far more worthy of a language log entry than the fact that somebody is rightfully annoyed by one of its consequences.

  9. Martin J Ball said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Wow – this post has really flushed out the prescriptivists and language peevers!! :)

  10. fev said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    Safire offered some be-and-it-was speculation on the subject in August 2007: "Speakers of Pentagonese tried warfighters for a while, but that locution’s usage war is lost."

    How are you on rendering "heaþodéorum" as "war-fighters"? That turns up at a Danish Beowulf site: http://www.heorot.dk/beo-rede-f11.html

  11. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    I am rather taken aback by the idea that 'soldier' might be used for all armed service personnel. I can see that a marine might be thought of as a soldier – they have historically been called 'sea soldiers'. Things might have developed in such a way that an airman/woman was called a soldier – in both the UK and the US they were originally members of the army, and presumably were thought of as soldiers at that time. So in these cases the fact that they are not called soldiers is indeed a matter of the culture of those branches. But has anyone ever called a sailor a soldier? 'Sailor' and 'soldier' have been the names of two different professions since time immemorial ('tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…'). There's nothing artificial about this separation – it's just how the language works.

  12. Ray Girvan said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 10:36 am

    @Henning Makholm: Doesn't "warrior" come with some definite connotations of belonging to a primitive society?

    Agreed. To me, its semantics are definitely more in the territory of Conan the Barbarian than modern military personnel.

  13. MattF said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:05 am

    One connotation of 'warfighter' is 'person at the sharp end of the chain of command, who may actually fire a weapon.' It's jargon, but useful jargon– particularly for the modern military where a new weapon may arrive on the battlefield with voluminous documentation. And the 'user' may be a high- school graduate whose survival depends on using the new weapon effectively.

  14. Mr Punch said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    Anything's better than the singular "troop."

    Does "warrior" connote primitivism? Sometimes. My sense is that when American high schools went politically correct, those that called their athletic teams "Warriors" always changed if they had identified that term with Native Americans (tomahawk logo, etc.) but did not necessarily do so otherwise.

  15. GeorgeW said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    MattF: "One connotation of 'warfighter' is 'person at the sharp end of the chain of command, who may actually fire a weapon.'

    That is a connotation I would make. I would not expect it to be said of "Pentagon pencil pushers" or Generals in Tampa cavorting with high society camp followers.

  16. Acilius said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    I think we've been leaving out the context of Mr Croshaw's remarks. Within the walls of the Pentagon, "warfighter" may not have sounded ridiculous, since "soldier" there means "one who is committed to a career as a uniformed member of the United States Army" (and is therefore either a skilled bureaucrat or a fool) and "warrior" means "a character in a movie where they wear loincloths and fight with swords." In that social context, "warfighter," like "muddy-boot soldier" within the Army specifically, is a pious way of referring to the people who actually set out to engage the enemy and destroy him, as opposed to the people who are likeliest to be promoted. That piety is what gives "warfighter" the edge over "combatant." Not only is "combatant" a relatively colorless term, it is also well-established in legal language. So any emotional force it may have is likely to be colored by the idea of legal judgment, not uncritical reverence.

    In Mr Croshaw's world of gaming, the distinctions have a very different force. The guys with loincloths and swords are very much of a piece with the masters of the contemporary battlefield, while bureaucratic skill is a topic for peace-minded games based on Facebook. And game developers are out of line if they delve to deeply into legalisms; in a properly functioning MMRP community, legalities are to left to the users to work out.

  17. mollymooly said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    The Safire piece mentioned by fev above says "serviceperson" is the preferred term of art; politicians seem to prefer "service-men and -women" (your hyphenation may vary). Safire also says an "airman" may be female. Not that Safire is authoritative. mind.

    A wordspy commenter in 2010 reports hearing warfighter in "radio ads (on a Washington, D.C. station) aimed at those who procure and use weapons of war."

    Did the vague word "sailor" replace the more specific term "seaman"? If so can anybody guess why?

    The US "tomb of the unknowns" isn't restricted to soldiers; airman Michael Joseph Blassie was disinterred not because he wasn't a soldier but because he wasn't unknown. (Hope my negation polarity is correct there.)

  18. Matt_M said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 12:57 pm


    Heaþodéor (Heaþodéorum is the dative plural form) is from heaþo-, meaning "war" (only attested as a compound morpheme in Old English), and déor, which means "brave, bold". So heaþodéor is actually an adjective meaning "war-bold", or "brave in battle". It's used in that line from Beowulf in a substantive sense, "the war-bold ones".

    "War-fighter" would be a rather inexact translation.

  19. David said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    The "soldier-portable" in the DARPA text hints at a previous correction from "man-portable"; maybe there was resistance to that change, and now the people who advocated it don't want to give it up.

  20. Jonathon said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    This isn't even the first game with "warfighter" in the title. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter came out in 2006, and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 came out in 2007. I've never heard anyone laugh about or object to those names.

  21. John Laviolette said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

    This is reminiscent of another bit of peeving among gamers. When the people behind the game Dungeons & Dragons named one type of character a "Battlemind", many people thought it was ridiculous and mockingly renamed it "Fightbrain", although it turns out that "battlemind", too, is part of U.S. military jargon. The point Acillius made about context applies here, too; outside of Pentagon discussion of combat resilience, "Battlemind" sounds ridiculous, complete inappropriate for games about fantasy warriors.

    There's something else that nags me about compounds like "warfighter" and "battlemind", but I just have to accept that it has something to do with unfamiliarity.

  22. Lance said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

    "Warfighter" may well be standard Defense Department terminology, but to me it evokes Geoff Pullum's notion of "nerdview": that is, just because it's the internally-used technical term doesn't mean it's suitable for general use. (Which isn't quite what Geoff means by it, but as I say, it's evocative of it.)

  23. naddy said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

    Mark says:

    in the U.S. Miltary, members of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are NOT "soldiers"

    Do other English-speaking countries equally restrict "soldier" or is this only US usage?

    Andrew says:

    But has anyone ever called a sailor a soldier? 'Sailor' and 'soldier' have been the names of two different professions since time immemorial

    On the other hand, a "sailor" can be any kind of mariner and isn't necessarily a member of the military.

  24. Nathan Myers said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    The problem with "warfighter" is that it has been a long time since the U.S. has engaged in war. It once had a War Department. Now that it has no "War Department", but only a "Defense Department", the term might be "defendist", "defensialist", "defendante".

  25. Rubrick said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

    Yahtzee does say in his postscript text quip (which as always appears below the "fair use" bolierplate) "And yes I know Warfighter is the name of a real life military communications system but that is somehow even more laughable".

  26. Acilius said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

    @Nathan Myers: "Defendante" (as in dilettante and debutante) is beautiful, I can think of many people who deserve to be known by this appellation.

    Another problem with "warfighter" is its lack of euphony. Wharfedale is a lovely place, has been for centuries, yet no one, to my knowledge, has ever written a poem about it. And why not? Maybe because you stumble when you have to enunciate that "f" so soon after a "w."

  27. Michael W said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

    As far as I know, Yahtzee is a British man working for an Australian publication (he may well reside in Australia). So while he might be unaware of the context in which an American game developer might have no problem using 'warfighter', there is the issue of what that sounds like in other countries, not to mention the point Acillus makes about the gaming culture. It wouldn't surprise me to find them, but are there equivalent issues with terminology for the UK/Australia armed forces?

  28. dd said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

    I know something about this! I work with engineers on military contracts, doing documentation work, and we've JUST been given new rules this year. It used to be that "warfighter" was standard, but they have just decreed that "soldier" is the new standard. I don't know why. I know they avoided using "soldier" because of the many other terms for people in the military, but I don't know why they changed their minds, except that perhaps "soldier" has become more of a generalized term in people's minds?

    I was really disappointed about the change because I was looking forward to working "warfighter" into as many conversations as possible ("yes, this is the most convenient solution, but is it good for the WARFIGHTER?")

  29. Matt said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

    I think that part of the reason this sounds ridiculous is because it is the latest game in the Medal of Honor series, which according to Wikipedia has more than a dozen entries, including "Medal of Honor: Frontline", "Medal of Honor: European Assault", "Medal of Honor: Infiltrator", etc. They're ALL about warfighters, but they usually have a somewhat more specific and evocative title. That the next in the series should simply be "Warfighter" does invite speculation that the level of inventiveness (or just availability of fresh angles) has dropped, e.g.:

    "So, we've assaulted Europe, gone to the frontlines, gone underground… what should our hero do this time?"
    "How about he infiltrates something?"
    "We already did Medal of Honor: Infiltrator."
    "Maybe he's a paratrooper?"
    "Nope, Medal of Honor: Airborne was three games ago."
    (some time later)
    "So he's done every specialized military job there is except mess cook? Fine, we'll just call this one Warfighter."

    I mean, I doubt that was the actual process, because these are high-profile games and there are people paid lots of money to do nothing but come up with names and concepts for them. (Off the top of my head, maybe it's a game about a supercompetent chap who gets involved in a series of varied missions alongside soldiers, sailors, Marines, etc. — or maybe the hero finds himself surrounded by civilians, and so "warfighter" actually is a meaningful, distinguishing descriptor.

  30. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

    mollymooly asked: Did the vague word "sailor" replace the more specific term "seaman"? If so can anybody guess why?

    Maybe because "seaman" denotes a fairly specific and rather low-level position, in the terms "able seaman" and "able-bodied seaman," while an admiral, or anyone who serves under him, can be called a sailor.

  31. Aelfric said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 9:23 pm

    And here I thought I was the only person who frequented both this website and The Escapist!

  32. Matt_M said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

    @Ralph Hickok and mollymooly:

    Re: Did the vague word "sailor" replace the more specific term "seaman"? If so can anybody guess why?

    The fact that "seaman" is a homophone for "semen" might be a significant factor in the change. Compare the replacement of "ass" with "donkey" and "cock" with "rooster" in modern standard English, and the disappearance of the word "coney" (originally pronounced the same as "cunny").

  33. Ø said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

    The term "seaman" has not been replaced. The lowest ranks in the US Navy still have this word in their names, as the lowest ranks in the US Air Force have "airman" and the lowest ranks in the Army and the Marine Corps have "private".

    In the Army everybody from a private to a general may be called a soldier.

    In the Marine Corps everybody from a private to a general may be called a marine.

    In the Navy everybody from a seaman to an admiral may be called a sailor.

    In the Air Force everybody from an airman to a general may be called a–well, there should a word, but I don't know what it is.

    I recall that some president (Clinton, was it?) put foot in mouth by referring to a commissioned officer of the Air Force as an airman.

  34. X said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:47 pm

    Air Force Doctrine Document 1: Airman. The term Airman has historically been associated with uniformed members of the US Air Force (officer or enlisted; regular, reserve, or guard) regardless of rank, component, or specialty.

  35. quixote said,

    November 25, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

    "Warfighter" feels silly to me, maybe because of the redundant redundancy of it all. I mean, "warfighter" as opposed to what? Warsleeper? Warartist? Wargoofer? To an amateur who's neither a gamer nor a military-whatever, there's a sense of trying too hard in that word. It's as if "fighter" was too plain, so someone thought they'd kick it up a notch to fightfighter.

    I can see why EA would want to lard it on, but the US military? They need to take a deep breath and retire their whole department of language and acronyms.

  36. OrenWithAnE said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 12:58 am

    FWIW, the term 'warfighter' is very common in the defense research industry as well. A phrase like "… into the hands of the warfighter" would not raise any hackles.

  37. maidhc said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 5:57 am

    Is "warfighter" in the defense industry a word that refers only to people who could potentially be in combat, as opposed to the 90% of the armed forces who are involved in support activities? Or does it mean anyone in uniform?

    It seems like a poorly chosen word to me, since even people who are involved in combat may not be fighting a war. For example the occupation of Iraq was what happened after the war was over.

    Is someone who is sitting in an air-conditioned office in Kansas flying a drone in Afghanistan a warfighter? Or just the troops on the ground who have people really shooting at them?

    For a generic word for someone in uniform, I think "serviceman" worked rather well. It just needs to be updated. "Serviceperson" or "servicemember" is awkward.

    As for its use in gaming, "Warfighter" seems as good a word as many another.

  38. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 6:01 am

    This isn't even the first game with "warfighter" in the title. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter came out in 2006, and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 came out in 2007. I've never heard anyone laugh about or object to those names.

    Possibly because nobody ever called those games by their full titles unless they had to for professional reasons. It was either Ghost Recon (and Ghost Recon 2), or GRAW (2).

    I think that part of the reason this sounds ridiculous is because it is the latest game in the Medal of Honor series

    Indeed. Also, there is a long list of first person shooters with increasingly bland war based titles. Most of them fall into the pattern: "X of Y: Generic War-related Subtitle". Especially to a non-American ear, "Medal of Honour: Warfighter" sounds like the pinncacle of this trend.

  39. David Morris said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 6:29 am

    In Australia, I have never heard or read the term 'warfighter'. I'm sure it would not be used, as it is too blatant a term. We have the 'Australian Defence Forces' and they are (theoretically, at least) only used for 'defence' or 'peacekeeping'. Haha. We also don't have marines, only army, navy and air force. I'm fairly sure that 'soldier' is used as the most general term, at least informally: 'our soldiers in Afghanistan' could include an air force helicopter pilot.
    My brother-in-law was in the army for 20 years, but I think I only ever said of him 'He's in the army' or 'He's a communications technician in the army'. It would have sounded strange to say that he was a 'soldier'. A very good friend of his conducts the regimental band, and it would sound even stranger to say that *he* was a 'soldier'.
    I just checked – the ADF site refers to 'troops' in Afghanistan. There are also news sites with stories of five 'soldiers' being killed there.

  40. Private Zydeco said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 6:45 am

    "Gun-haver! You Actually Have a Gun!"

  41. GeorgeW said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    @quixote: Warfighter distinguishes a military combatant from the police (crime fighters), a fire person (firefighters), those who throw inflammatory explosives (fire bombers), those who fight bovines (bullfighters), those who struggle for freedom (freedom fighters), pugilists (prizefighters), etc.

    However, "Spitfighter' was not an airplane that fought against sputum.

    [(myl) And olive oil is oil made from olives, but hair oil is not oil made from hairs. Compound semantics is semi-regular at best.]

  42. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 7:46 am

    Because it was called a Spitfire, maybe.

    [(myl) That too.]

  43. Faldone said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    "Warfighter" feels silly to me, maybe because of the redundant redundancy of it all. I mean, "warfighter" as opposed to what? Warsleeper? Warartist? Wargoofer?

    Warmonger, warstarter, warprofiteer.

  44. Alen Mathewson said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    My recollection is that when in the 1980s London was looking to encourage gender-neutral terminology for employees, the term 'firefighter' was chosen to replace the former 'fireman' on the grounds that not only was it gender-neutral but it had a more 'vigorous/heroic' tone to it; it was felt this would help overcome any resistance from the predominantly male workforce to 'political correctness'.

    Whilst solder and sailor are clearly gender-neutral, other terms like airman and seaman have a gender bias and I wonder if in seeking to replace them a similar train of thought to 'firefighter' was followed in someone's mind to arrive at warfighter?

  45. GeorgeW said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 8:42 am

    @Ginger Yellow: Whoops, you are right it was spitfire not spitfighter.

  46. leoboiko said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Re long line of Medal of Honor games: Perhaps this time the hero's a pacifist? He fights (against) war…

  47. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 9:01 am

    I think both 'seaman' and 'sailor' have a long history: distinctions have sometimes been drawn between them – either in terms of rank or in terms of specialisation – though I'm not sure if there is a way of drawing the distinction that everyone would agree on. 'Seafarer' is sometimes used as a gender-neutral alternative to 'seaman': I find this confusing, as it traditionally it meant anyone who travelled by sea, even if only as a passenger.

    'Soldier' has a use in which it contrasts with 'officer', though it also has a more general use: it looks as if 'airman' is similar.

    Would 'aviator' do as a term for all members of an air force? (I'm thinking of Naomi Novik's use of it, though her aviators ride on dragons.)

    On the other hand, a "sailor" can be any kind of mariner and isn't necessarily a member of the military.

    Very true: but I wonder if that is actually part of the reason why sailors are not soldiers – the fact that they are sailors, that they belong to the sea (as others do as well), is as important to their identity as the fact that they are fighters.

  48. Polyspaston said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 10:06 am


    "The US "tomb of the unknowns" isn't restricted to soldiers;"
    Are they going to bury Dick Cheney there?

    Ginger Yellow:
    "Especially to a non-American ear, "Medal of Honour: Warfighter" sounds like the pinncacle of this trend."

    Well, yes. It does also make one wonder if there's such a thing as a medal of dishonour… The Order of Dismerit, perhaps? A 'Distinguished Disservice Order', maybe?

  49. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    For those not especially famiiar with the world of video games, here are some real FPS and strategy titles from recent years:

    Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
    Dawn of War
    Men of War: Assault Squad
    Gears of War
    Hour of Victory
    Frontlines: Fuel of War (note the cunning inversion of the format)Soldiers: Heroes of WWII

    In this context, surely it's obvious why "Medal of Honour: Warfighter" would look particularly silly, regardless of whether it has a legitimate usage in the American military.

  50. Nicholas Waller said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 11:33 am

    @ Andrew (not the same one) – "Would 'aviator' do as a term for all members of an air force?"

    Something I remember from Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff is that in the US at least "aviator" is reserved for Naval flyers. Wikipedia says it's for pilots connected with the sea in a fundamental way: "A United States Naval Aviator is a qualified pilot in the United States Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard".

    My father was in the RAF in WW2 in a form of "sea-connected" flying (anti-submarine patrols in Coastal Command Liberators), but – as far as I know – he was only ever known as a pilot.

    As aviators are traditionally the people in the air, specifically pilots, not the general run of personnel, most of whom are employed on the ground, I imagine there'd be resistance to calling various technicians, logistics staff and land-base armed guards "aviators", though presumably many if not most or all are trained in some degree of warfighting.

  51. Faldone said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

    Aviator is probably the common term used in the Navy since the Navy retains the position of pilot in its older sense, one who controls the passage of a ship through inland waters. In any case aviator would be used strictly for the person in control of the flight of an airplane.

  52. Ø said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    @X: So maybe, in the incident that I am vaguely remembering, the President referred to a certain USAF officer as "Airman _____" instead of, say, "Lieutenant _____". That would still be incorrect and, though an honest error, disrespectful in some people's view.

  53. Lazar said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

    @Nicholas Waller: That seems to be a distinction that many languages fail to maintain, though. In the French and German air forces, for example, the lowest enlisted ranks are "aviateur" and "Flieger", respectively.

  54. Tom O'Neill said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

    In World War I they were "doughboys". In the early years of World Warr II they became "GIs" and remained GIS through the Viet Nam era. (All along, the troops were more likely to call themselves dogfaces or worse.) With the end of the draft, fewer and fewer citizens came to have any personal experience with military service. "Warfighter" or "warrior" would not likely have become popular in a society in which more of us had that experience. Neither the young soldiers nor the veteran NCOs and officers I knew in the 60s could have imagined being called a warrior outside of a speech by a general who had been impressed by the vocabulary of George Patton. When we left the services and became veterans we would have laughed or blushed had anyone referred to us as "Warfighters." The growing distance between civilian and military life –and all the consequences of that distance– may explain part of the growing use of the new term.

  55. Lazar said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 7:30 pm

    @Tom O'Neill: I wonder when the awkwardly delivered, awkwardly received "Thank you for your service" became widespread. Like the sappy "our heroes", "our warriors" and "our brave servicemen and women", it just seems to accentuate the gulf between military and civilians. It's as if everybody's stepping on their own toes trying to find new hagiographic ways of referring to fighting people.

  56. Lindsay Costelloe said,

    November 26, 2012 @ 11:39 pm

    "Warfighter" is used by the Australian Defence Force. I ran across it when immmersed in a Defence tender. It isn't commonly used and I haven't noticed it used by outsiders. Here is a link to one instance of its use:

  57. Circe said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 1:01 am

    Would that we civilians had a similar term for "he and she."

    I propose "lifeliver".

  58. Joe1959 said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 5:34 am

    In the UK the Royal Marines remain part of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy website does however refer to them both as "soldiers at sea" and "the Royal Navy's amphibious infantry". Personally, if I met a Marine in a pub, I would never call them a "soldier".

    "Warfighter" (or "war-fighter", "war fighter", "warfighting") appear on the British Army, Royal Air Force, and UK Ministry of Defence websites, but not on the Royal Navy website,

  59. Acilius said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    @Circe: I love it. "Life-liver" is much better than my thought, "existence-haver."

  60. Barry Ross said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    Prof. Liberman's argument here seems to be that the term "warfighter" exists within the military as a state of art thus the video game reviewer is wrong in some way to be ridiculing it. Is this a fair synopsis? Yet, what to me is the most interesting function of the term is that it has a propaganda value as a collective neologism. I can easily accept that it has considerable use as a bit of military jargon but it differs from much technical jargon in that it is weighted to create a strong impression- it is the polar opposite of most euphemisms which try to soften impressions whereas this does the opposite.

    Not being associated with the military one might call these warfighters, "teenagers," or "boys and girls" or "cannon fodder." I don't understand why the term is not simply "fighter." Upthread someone suggested the honorable word "warrior" to which the objection was ironically made that warrior had an aura of the primitive, as if to say that those who, these days, participate in acts of reciprocal destruction are no longer primitive or that their activities are no longer primitive; but the very sense of "warfighter' it seems to me is to denote something of anticipatory violence and latent power, and if so at least crude if not primitive. It may be the contrast between these senses which depend entirely upon audience that led the reviewer to express disbelief.

    Then too, warfighter has all the euphony of "department of homeland security" Is there a word for a term which attempts to mold an impression like this? If the accumulated result of using terminology biased to give a definite impression is the art of propoganda, what is this kind of counter euphemism called?

  61. Tuesday links « Panther Red said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    […] Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw" dislikes the word "Warfighter," and Mark Liberman isn't sure why.  I have my own theories (here and […]

  62. rpsms said,

    November 27, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    Yahtzee's videos are critiques rather than reviews and he always focuses on story telling. He is often entertaining and certainly snide, but he is always right.

    The fact that "warfighter" is common (or uncommon) parlance is really beside the point.

  63. Joe1959 said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 5:12 am


    Beside the point in the context of a game review / critique perhaps, but surely still of linguistic – this being Language Log – interest if someone is peeving about "warfighter" when it is clearly a common enough "term of art"?

  64. Jeff R. said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    I personally like the word for its ridiculousness, and think that other franchises should emulate it (Madden '13: Sportsplayer. Need for Speed: Cardriver. Super Mario: Turtlejumper. And so on…)

  65. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

    Madden '13: Sportsplayer

    Or Ballthrower.

  66. Bloix said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 3:03 pm


  67. J Cook said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

    Interesting read.
    I, too, as an outsider to the term "warfighter" in all its tautological glory, am proud to add that I just inserted this term into an undergraduate paper for the hell of it, in reference to "The Last Samurai."

  68. Kathleen said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

    I don't care much about "warfighter" one way or another, but the reference to "his friend, Numbers Accountant" made me laugh out loud.

  69. David Fried said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

    I think Tom O'Neill has it just right. Whatever the DOD's reasons for using them, "warfighter" and "warrior" sound like a return to the sort of dreadful euphemistic cant that we all thought had been knocked on the head by WWI, in which our "noble warriors" attain glory by "slaying the foemen." The anti-prescriptive dogmatists at Language Log sometimes treat all expressions of taste in usage as essentially illegitimate. But we often experience an offense to propriety or morals first as an inchoate offense to taste. The trouble is that when one snickers in disdain at a word like "warfighter," one can be contemned (yes, that's spelled correctly) as a prescriptivist snob. But when you try to unpack your objection by decrying the word as a bit of backdoor militarism, then you're taking yourself way too seriously. Between these two millstones any attempt at moral reasoning can be ground to powder.

  70. chris said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

    "The US "tomb of the unknowns" isn't restricted to soldiers;"
    Are they going to bury Dick Cheney there?

    Not if they know who he is.

  71. West said,

    November 30, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

    Chris said,
    November 25, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    "I'm a bit disappointed that you, as a linguist, just accept the marines' (i.m.o. chilish) insistence on that the common word 'soldier' doesn't apply to them. "

    Well then, Chris, we'll just let you tell the Marines about their childish insistence. To everybody else: I'll get the popcorn.

  72. N Klein said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    In my experience working at an Army hospital in contemporary climate, given BRAC, soldier really is only used to refer to Army. I think I've made this mistake once or twice in a joint-base context and sounded like someone who was excluding USAF.

    SM (short for "service member") gets thrown around a lot in emails, research protocols, etc, to refer to anyone who is active duty across the services (or Tricare eligible).

    Warrior, as in "wounded warrior" describes those that have seen combat. At times it feels like there is a lot built up around distinguishing combat-related injuries from DNBI (disease non-battle injuries).

    Warfighter gets used to describe SMs and their psychology when they are actively in combat, not after returning from deployment as much (although maybe this pattern doesn't hold up). You hear "warfighter mentality" or "warfighter readiness" or "warfighter psychology" a lot, and it implies a much narrower context than "soldier" or "service member."

  73. N Klein said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 9:53 am

    Also I agree wholeheartedly with comments above that many things about language in a military setting (not the least of which is excessive use of acronym) reflect and/or contribute to a cultural divide. In my experience, even "civilian" is a term most often used to describe federal employees who are not in uniform–and not the "rest of us."

  74. Hieranonymous Bosh said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

    I noticed this very Germanic-sounding usage in American professional military literature in the 1980's; I assumed that there had been a resurgence in the War College think-tanks of Deutschekriegstheorie/praxis, possibly conflated with the American naval proclivity toward streamlined acronymical portmanteaux (e.g., COMANTFLT for "COMmander, u.s. atLANTic FLeeT")

    (German kriegskämpfer = English "war fighter," or "war-fighter," or "warfighter")

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