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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

Iraqnophobia (also Iraqnaphobia, Iraqniphobia) noun [U]
an irrational fear of Iraq and its ability to make and use biological or nuclear weapons

Iraqnophobic adjective

'Back in the Gulf War days, the first President Bush compared Saddam Hussein to Adolph Hitler - both bullies who gassed their own citizens, invaded weaker neighbours and committed atrocities. political cartoons showed Saddam as a gigantic, voracious spider consuming Kuwait and threatening America. Some called it Iraqnophobia.'
(, January 2003)

As the citation above suggests, the term Iraqnophobia was originally coined during 1990 in response to the ensuing war in the Gulf. In the same year a feature film starring Jeff Daniels told the story of a sleepy American town plagued by a growing population of deadly poisonous spiders. The film was aptly entitled Arachnophobia (from the technical term arachnid, a zoological class including spiders). This then-hit movie inspired a play on words in the context of developing conflict. An editorial cartoon in an August 1990 edition of the St Petersburg Times showed a spider labelled 'Iraq' looking menacingly at Kuwait. The cartoon had the caption: 'Saddam Hussein presents Iraqnophobia.'

The term Iraqnophobia has enjoyed a predictable resurgence in the past eight months during speculation and comment on the allied war with Saddam Hussein's regime. As a politically-charged neologism, it is predominantly used by those who are against going to war with Iraq, and its adjectival derivative confirms these overtones, the term Iraqnophobic occurs in phrases like Iraqnophobic warmongering. Such terms are often used in the context of discussions on the so-called demonisation of Saddam Hussein. Recent scholars of wartime propaganda are humorously referring to the anti-Saddam message as Iraqnophobia II, a kind of dull sequel to an established theme - and thereby the oblique references to the 1990 film continue.

Another war-related neologism that has attracted particular interest very recently is the phrase shock and awe, which at the time of writing (16th June 2003) is the subject of a fervent copyright battle between companies in the United States.

Shock and awe refers to a military strategy in which very large amounts of firepower are released early in a conflict in order to force the enemy to surrender. The term originated with Harlan Ullman, a retired US navy pilot, who in the mid-nineties was involved in an informal affiliation of ex-military officials who met to discuss defence tactics. In fact, Ullman's original conception of the shock and awe tactic was more to do with psychological dominance than actual physical obliteration. His idea was to stun an opponent into realising that the strength of the opposing force was so enormous, so unbeatable, that there was no point in resisting. Ullman states in his original writings that: 'The basis for rapid dominance rests in the ability to affect the will, perception and understanding of the adversary through imposing sufficient shock and awe to achieve the necessary political, strategic and operational goals ' (from Shock and Awe, NDU Press). The potential outcome was then thought to be a quick surrender incurring minimum damage and minimum casualties. In contrast, the actual use of the phrase shock and awe has been in reference to the unleashing of unprecedented amounts of firepower on Iraq. Television and newspaper reports adopted the term to describe the aerial bombardment of Baghdad, and it now seems the phrase has become indiscriminately associated with the idea of large-scale destruction.

It was on the basis of the powerful impact of the phrase that the Japanese electronics giant Sony planned to release a computer game called Shock and Awe, applying to use the phrase as a trademark in the US just a day after war broke out. The company was forced to drop its plans amidst widespread criticism that it was acting in bad taste.

Despite this, numerous other US-based companies are currently battling to use shock and awe as a slogan in marketing not just electronic games but a whole range of products, including fireworks, hot sauce, pesticides, shampoo, lingerie and golf clubs! Many are sceptical about this strategy however due to the overwhelmingly negative connotations the phrase has unwittingly acquired.

The compound regime change noun [U], gained renewed recognition amid media speculation on the war during the past year. A highly politically-charged term, fundamentally it refers to a change in leadership. Against the aftermath of the recent war however, it can no longer be defined uncontroversially, its interpretation differing according to the sympathies of the user. Some associate it with the idea of liberation or emancipation, others think it signifies overthrow or revolution.

The interesting thing about this compound is that, despite its military connotations, it has entered mainstream use in a variety of business, political and sporting contexts. Just a quick search of the Web reveals many articles with captions such as regime change on Wall Street or regime change at number 10 Downing Street, etc, and although currently used predominantly with reference to the situation in Iraq, regime change is at the same time gaining ground as a general term for any major change of leadership or strategy in other spheres. There is also evidence for the derived form regime changer, for individuals involved in the process of change.

These are just three examples of how a war involving two major English-speaking nations has had an impact on the English language during past months.

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.