ENGLISCH/920: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (193) militant (SB)


193. What does militant mean?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

There is a very irritating expression in the English language "militant" or "militants". If you take the famous and well known citation of Albert Einstein for example,

I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.

"militant" in this context is used like an adjective for being aggressively engaged in the matter, which is good. But in some other context it is used as a noun describing persons, who act violently. "Something was attacked or destroyed by militants". I would expect to hear a phrase like "militant persons or militant participants instead". Maybe you can help.


Susanna F. (Warsaw, Poland)


Dear Ms F

Military, milicia, militants are three different expressions that derives from the same origin.

"The military" refers to the armed forces of the state.

"Milicia groups" are armed civilians.

And "a militant" is a person that holds firm views and is willing to use extreme action even violence to promote them (e.g. an activist, revolutionary or insurgent). A militant animal liberationist fights for animal rights for example.

It has become common in the news to use the term militant to indicate campaigns by Palestinian fighters, by Moslems in southern Thailand, by activists in Cashmere, by Islamic militants in Saudi Arabia, and so on.

Here are some uses of the news media:

"Coalition forces pursued militants into a series of caves near the border."
"Militants are continuing to step up their activity."
"A clear toughening of the union militant stands."

The word "militant" is preferred by many journalists as an alternative to terms which have a political implication such as terrorist or fundamentalist. The meaning of this seemingly neutral expression is changing since news commentators tend to leave their neutral position for their own political view.

So you can argue the point that the term militant has become a euphemism for terrorist. Using the term militant is neither a reasonable effort nor a guarantee for fair news reporting.


Miranda Gobbledygook

14 October 2013