Words are almost living things. They change and evolve and adapt, their commonly-accepted meaning shifting with usage and time.
One word that has become more and more common in the past few years has been “insurgent.”
I first started digging into the word when I started writing a piece excoriating the media’s use of “insurgent” to describe the people we’re fighting in Iraq. I was halfway through my tirade, based on the notion that “insurgent” carries the implication of a native rebellion when a good chunk of those terrorists were non-Iraqis, when I actually looked up what the word means:
a person who rises in forcible opposition to lawful authority, esp. a person who engages in armed resistance to a government or to the execution of its laws; rebel.
With that, my half-written piece went straight into the trash.
That rankled a great deal. That, combined with my deep-seated hatred of those who are attacking our troops in Iraq, led me to an utterly unreasonable and unjustifiable loathing for the word itself.
My personal reasons aside, I think that “insurgent” has become a “bad” word. It’s become the new preferred term for terrorists, thugs, butchers, murderers, and other sordid lowlife scum. By calling them “insurgents,” those who oppose the US killing the dirtbags that need killing avoid having to admit that they are offering support to those dirtbags.
And now it’s getting worse.
Thanks to my sometime colleague Rob Port, I’ve discovered that “insurgent” is now making its way into American politics, and is being cheerfully embraced by the Democratic presidential frontrunner:
“Look, I’m the challenger, I’m the upstart,” he said. “I’m the insurgent — she’s, she’s the champ. She’s part of the Democratic network in Washington and, you know, if you’re the title holder then you don’t lose it on points. You got to be knocked out.”
I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all.
Now, I’m not some whiny git. (At least, not this time.) I’m not going to all on Senator Barack Obama to apologize for the use of the word. Technically, it’s a proper use of the word — another accepted definition of “insurgent” is “a member of a section of a political party that revolts against the methods or policies of the party” — and that certainly fits Obama’s upsetting of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Machine’s “air of inevitability” push to put her back in the White House.
The word has become, to me, tainted by its associations with terrorists and other perpetrators of heinous deeds. It ought to be avoided, not embraced.
Fortunately for Senator Obama, most of those who have pushed the “insurgent” theme or, at least, tolerated and embraced its redefinition, are those who are most likely to vote for him anyway. People like me aren’t overly likely to vote for him anyway, so pushing our buttons won’t really cost him much.
But it still bugs the hell out of me, and I wish he’d not do it again.