Thursday, March 10, 2005

Language notes

A little background on the word homeland, gleaned from a Lexis search of newspaper headlines in the past decade:

The phrase homeland security was not used in US newspapers in its present sense before April 2000, when an obscure national security report was issued by a bipartisan commission headed by former senators Gary Hart, D-Colo, and Warren Rudman, R-N.H, which called for various "homeland security" measures against potential terrorism. The report sank like a stone. The phrase appeared only sporadically in newspapers between then and 9/11/2001. The now famous phrase was unknown to most of us until 9/20/2001 when Bush decided to form a homeland security agency.

Before that the word homeland--by itself--was common enough in American English, but as far as I can tell was always used in one of three ways.

The most common usage was to refer to the place where an immigrant to this country had come from. "Vietnamese immigrant homesick for homeland"--would be an example newspaper headline.

The second usage was to refer to a tribal "homeland," usually in South Africa, where, as you probably remember, bogus "homelands" were created by the white South African government. Also, occasionally the word would be used in newspapers in this sense to refer to similarly dodgy entities such as a "Navajo homeland" or a "Cherokee homeland."

The third way the word was used--and not very commonly--was to refer to a situation in some other country (often Germany) where "defense of the homeland" against an enemy was the subject of the article. "Historian notes von Ribbentrop returned from Canada to defend homeland" would be an example.

To me, at least--perhaps because of this third kind of usage--the phrase "homeland security" has an unpleasant Third Reich sound to it.

And, of course, actual Americans, excluding members of the Bush Administration, never, even now, refer to the United States as "the Homeland."

No comments: