Language log

Two of my favorite blogs offer instances of bizarre misuses of words.

First, Samefacts:

Tyler Duvall is the chief policymaker at US DOT; he favors funding for experiments in congestion pricing. In transportation-policy analysis, this is roughly as controversial as vaccination programs are in health policy. He also favors, more broadly, privatization of road building and operation, which has a mixed record so far.

Peter DeFazio is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure highways and transit subcommittee, and represents the nice people of Eugene, Ore. At least a few of whom might be scratching their head at

“Tyler Duvall is a little pointy-headed neocon with grand ideas about the future of transportation, and they all involve tolling,” DeFazio said. “He's bright, young, energetic—just totally wrong, and has a bizarre, neocon view of transportation.”

I must have missed Irving Kristol’s broadsides against the federal gasoline tax, that nine-part series in Commentary on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, and Paul Wolfowitz’s scheme to disband the Baghdad Rapid Transit District.

“Neocon” serves roughly the same purposes in the outer rings of the Democratic Party as “gay” does for junior-high-school boys.

Then Daniel Drezner:

Read the whole thing. The article chronicles a variety of tactics designed to impair Al Qaeda's strengths on the web and in the hearts and minds of Muslims.

It's good stuff. But it's not "deterrence" in the Cold War sense of the word.

Successful deterrence of Al Qaeda would be taking place if the organization decided not to take action because they feared retaliation by the United States against assets that they held dear. Deterrence works if an actor refrains from attack because they calculate that the cost of the adversary's response would outweigh any benefit from the initial strike.

But that's not in the U.S. strategy. Instead, what U.S. officials appears to be doing is decreasing the likelihood of a successful attack -- by sowing confuson, interdicting logistical support, and reducing sympathy for the organization. The closest one could come to deterrence is if one defined Al Qaeda's reputation as a tangible asset that would face devastating consequences after a successful attack. Even here, however, the U.S. strategy is primarily to weaken Al Qaeda by increasing the odds of an unsuccessful attack.

The more appropriate word to use here is "containment."

Now if we can just get people to stop calling big government Democrats "communists", and market liberals "fascists", we'll really be getting somewhere . . .