Friday, February 11, 2011

If I meet Burt Reynolds, I'll shake his hand for you*

It's official: Ink Spots is famous.

Ok, not really. But Danger Room is famous, and they linked over here, so we're getting pretty good play this afternoon. Noah Shachtman emailed me a couple of weeks ago, right after I'd inaugurated the "Learn to Speak Pentagon" series, and asked if I would write a "Pentagonese primer" for them. So I kicked around a few ideas and threw something together... and then Egypt happened, and the defense blogosphere's attention justifiably shifted elsewhere. In the meantime, I've held off on Lesson 3 until Danger Room had a chance to run the piece, but it's up now and I don't want you guys to think I've abandoned the theme.

Go read: "Pentagonese: A Primer"

I went through two versions of this to hone in on the sort of thing Noah was looking for, so here's the stuff he didn't use as a kind of bonus DVD.

Downrange ­– An operational theater or combat zone. Often synonymous with “the ‘Box,” or “the Sandbox” (though these beachier forms can be Iraq-specific, too). Never paired with a specific geographic reference, so you won’t hear “downrange in Afghanistan.”
  • “We have to reschedule the VTC next month – the general’s going downrange.”
Fidelity and Granularity – This pairing illustrates the characteristic Pentagonese phenomenon of using two distinct and relatively uncommon standard English words to mean the same very specific thing – in this case, “details.”
  • “No sir, we, uh, we don’t have enough fidelity on that to give you a good answer at this time” or “we need to get a bit more granularity on the resources piece before we can move out on this.”
Kinetic – Lethal, violent, traditional. Contrasted with “non-kinetic actions,” a neologism coined to better elaborate the sort of mindset shift encapsulated by the publication of a handbook entitled “The Commander’s Guide to Money as a Weapons System.” (Money is a decidedly non-kinetic “weapons system.”) This is the part with the shooting.
  • “We can dominate the kinetic fight, but if we can’t protect the people, we’ll lose.”
Metrics – What DoD uses to assess situations, evaluate activities, and measure progress. Metrics are used to demonstrate rigor and obtain granularity. “Munitions expended in the calendar month” might be a metric – so too might something fuzzier and more subjective like “districts under government control.” Typically reflective of the military’s efforts to make qualitative judgments through the collection of quantitative data, metrics must be established in order to populate stoplight charts.
  • “We need to work up some metrics so we can show the Boss we’re doing something out here. Can’t you get me a number for the hearts and minds we’ve won, or something?”
OBE – “Overtaken by events;” no longer valid as a result of a change in circumstances. If you sent your wife an email about all the awesome things the two of you were gonna do together when you got out of the Army, and then you got stop-lossed the next day, you might say that communication was OBE. Exclusively employed in the Building as an acronym/initialization.
  • “All those recommendations you made are OBE, man – didn’t you read the paper this morning?”
Offline ­– A mystifyingly general term meaning something like “in another venue.” Usually part of a suggestion to expedite a meeting by “taking this up offline.” If you’re on a VTC, offline could mean on the phone; if you’re in a conference room, it may mean a one-on-one sidebar. Contrary to expectations, offline never means “not on the internet.”
  • “I don’t want to hold up the group, so me and Colonel Jones can talk offline.”
Out of my lane – Beyond the limits of one’s expertise or area of professional responsibility. Almost always employed as a sort of disclaimer when weighing in on something you don’t know a damn thing about.
  • “I’m just a dumb infantry guy, so this is out of my lane, but if you ask me we ought to be getting out in front of this Egypt thing.”
Optics – How something looks to outside observers. Rarely considered by personnel in the field; when you come to The Building, before you do anything you’ve got to be aware of the optics. “How it looks” in regular civilian-speak.
  • “This thing is sensitive on the Hill, so before we announce anything we’ve got to sit down and think about the optics.”
Scratch the itch – Yet another of the military’s overused idiomatic expressions, this one is pretty self-explanatory: to satisfy a stated need. Notable more for frequency of use than for being particular obscure or nonsensical.
  • “We’ve got a few outstanding media requests on this, so I need to you to go ahead and scratch the itch and put this one to bed.”
TTPs – Tactics, techniques, and procedures. A collection of methods for performing a particular task. TTPs are a way of doing business – they’re how doctrinal principles are translated into action.
  • “If you want to get a look at TTPs and best practices for end-running Congress on budgets, pay attention to what the SECDEF’s been up to.”
* Anyone who can tell me the genesis of this title without Googling wins a free Ink Spots t-shirt** and my everlasting admiration.

** We don't actually have t-shirts.

UPDATE: Wave to the Mother Jones readers, too. Adam Weinsten linked over here in a post highlighting the most hilariously awesome command information video of all time -- so rife with jargon that I was actually laughing within the first 30 seconds. Seriously, go watch it. It'll make your day.


  1. Dude, you should write a whole book of these. I'd buy it.

  2. Finally something I know!

    Don Williams, "If Hollywood Don't Need You..."

  3. Zachary -- Nice work. Watch the mailbox for that imaginary t-shirt!

  4. On the "Out of my lane" line: I've usually heard this said as "out of my swim lane" referring to each person focusing on one area of work and not encroaching on someone else's.

  5. Maybe it's an Army thing, but "lanes" usually refer to rifle range lanes, not "swim lanes" don't they?

    I'd like to nominate adding "POA&M" and "Lean/Six Sigma"


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