Caveat   [Latin, 3rd person sing. pres. subjunct. of cavere beware.]

As explained in my post ‘To submit or not to submit, that is the question.’, I have serious doubts about the purpose of most of the terror attacks which were perpetrated in the West and which received such considerable emotional coverage from our media. I suppose that one day I shall write a little more about this topic. For the time being however, let me leave you with this quote from a French author (Guy Debord) who, in 1988 (in his Comments for the Italian edition of his The Society of the Spectacle, section IX), wrote the following incredibly prescient lines:

This democracy, so perfect, fabricates its own inconceivable enemy, terrorism. It wants, actually, to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The history of terrorism is written by the State and it is thus instructive. The spectating populations must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else seems rather acceptable, in any case more rational and democratic.
We should expect, as a logical possibility, that the State’s security services intend to use all the advantages they find on the terrain of the spectacle, which has exactly been organised with that in mind for some time; on the contrary, it is the difficulty of glimpsing this which is astonishing, and does not ring true.

I do not know the name of the translator; I found the translation on the Internet; I have left it mostly as is.

7th March 2016


The first title I had in mind for this entry was ‘Words matter’, but I decided to go for a title with the phrase ‘of Latin origin’ in it after having realised that the word which I had found so objectionable of late had been in fact coined by the Romans. This word is the noun ‘militant’ and it is a word we see in the headlines far too frequently — unfortunately this has been the case for a number of years now.

I feel very unhappy whenever I see the noun ‘militant’ being used in connection with an act of extreme violence that involves many deaths and is usually perpetrated against non-combatants. In such cases, I feel that to use the noun (or adjective) ‘militant’ is almost an insult to the memories of those who have been murdered (i.e. through premeditated killing).

‘Terrorist’ seems to have fallen out of favour because this noun has come to be associated through some perverted logic with some kind of moral judgment on the part of the writer (or the speaker) who uses this word – hence the terrible clichéOne man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. However, ‘terrorist’ simply means ‘A person who uses violent and intimidating methods in the pursuit of political aims.’ (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2007). Interestingly, the word first served to describe the supporters of the Jacobin repression during the French Revolution between June 1793 and July 1794, a period known as ‘La Terreur’).

‘Militant’, just like the adjective ‘military’ and the noun ‘militia’, comes from the Latin word ‘miles’, the generic term used by the Romans to describe a warrior (as opposed to ‘soldier’, which implies remuneration – as derived from the French word ‘soldat’ 1475, itself from the Italian word ‘soldato’ circa 14th century) which one author claims to be derived from ‘mile-goer’ (‘millia passuum euntes’, Roland Kent, 1910).

Etymologically, ‘militant’ therefore means ‘a person engaged in warfare’. Its second meaning (i.e. to ‘advocate or employ militant action in pursuit of a political or social end’ – Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2007) appears much later, i.e. circa 17th century with the sense of ‘to contend’ and 1794 (during the French Revolution!), for the French language, in the sense of ‘militant action’ (i.e. social advocacy, political activism, etc).

Although I realised that the original meaning of ‘militant’ was related to warfare when I did my shopping this evening (‘millia passuum’?), I still object to its being used to describe indiscriminate mass killings of civilians carried out through extreme violence for the furthering of whatever political objectives because this is not in keeping with its original meaning, namely to describe war (i.e. the killing of combatants normally). If journalists or editors feel obliged to pander to political correctness, I suggest they use ‘fighter’ (without ‘freedom’, of course). However, I still feel that ‘terrorist’ is the only noun which can describe the extreme act of barbarous violence that was perpetrated today against the most innocent of all: children.

I am extremely sad for the parents and the relatives of those killed. I also know that the survivors, even if they were not wounded, will bear the psychological scars of this extreme tragedy of horror for years to come (for my part, I can still remember very vividly the face of a former colleague who had survived the Mumbai terrorist attacks when I saw her the following Monday). May the parents, the relatives and the survivors find the strength to go through this most terrible and horrific tragedy.