Sunday, September 10, 2006


How and when did the terrorist attack on September 11th in the USA, come to be referred to as ‘nine-eleven’? I tried to google for information on when the expression was first used and by who, but couldn’t find any leads. Does anybody know?

Terrorist attacks and other human tragedies are usually referred to in terms of the location of the incident- as in Mumbai blasts, Bali killings, London bomb blasts, attack on Indian Parliament, Munich massacre, Bhopal gas tragedy, Godhra train massacre, etc. How many of us remember the exact date on which any of these incidents happened?

An article in Time magazine (sometime in 2002) had reported that the American Dialect Society had voted ‘nine-eleven” as the ‘term of the year”. Linguists felt that there was a kind of aura or mystique to the date, as 911 was also the number for emergency calls in the US. Also, as more than one place was involved in the attack, it was difficult to assign a single geographical name to the incident- such as 'New York building crash'. Another explanation was that ‘9/11’ being a number made it sound as unemotional and impersonal as possible. Referring to the horrific incidents as the ‘events of 9/11’ somehow seemed to help in distancing one from the tragedy.

The term may have been coined by TV journalists, because it was catchy and fitted in easily in headlines and ticker tape crawlers. But not all terms and words coined by journalists become popular or find ready and universal acceptance. CNN had tried to create a buzz around the words, “War on Terror’, but it didn’t catch on .

A better explanation is that the term appealed to the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ and stayed on. It is the ‘crowd’ that intuitively seems to know which expression describes the incident best; should it be called a ‘tragedy’, ‘massacre’, ‘ killing’, ‘carnage’, ‘blasts’ or simply by the date ?


Lalita Mukherjea said...

Lemme think this through. Nice post Raj. Drat, now I have to think.

Fiery Ice said...

atleast Americans refer it as 9/11 is acceptable as they write date in mm/dd/yyyy..

Have you seen the latest papers about Mumbai blasts.. People seem to refer to it as 7/11 as in july 11.. Stupid, when we mention it in dd/mm/yyyy in India..

Anu said...

Please allow me to be a bit cynical here. When things happen at other places, one has to refer to them by the names of the places. But when something happens in the center of the universe? That is when you refer to it by the date.

Raj said...

lalita, think fast; I need to move on to my next post.

fiery ice : At least, the London blasts were on July 7th. It is 7/7 in dd/mm or mm/dd system.

Anu : ha, you could be right. They have even appropriated a date as their own

Lalita Mukherjea said...

@Anu. Bravo.

Raj, brain turned to mush. Move on, man, move on.