Oblique strikes

Map of the Schengen Area. Countries in blue are already members, and countries in orange will be joining. Photo source:
Map of the Schengen Area. Countries in blue are already members, and countries in orange will be joining. Photo source: “Map of the Schengen Area” by Rob984 – Derived from File:Schengen Area.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_the_Schengen_Area.svg#/media/File:Map_of_the_Schengen_Area.svg.

Listening to the news this morning, I heard an interesting new term.  Part of what was interesting was that the broadcaster felt it necessary to explain what the term meant.  The term was la frappe oblique, or “oblique strike.”  If I understood the story correctly (never a given), there is a European commission meeting on the subject of what to do about Islamic State (usually referred to as Daesh in French, the same as in Arabic) plans for “oblique strikes.”  As the broadcaster explained, an “oblique strike” is carried out by having a citizen of one European country carry out a terrorist attack in another European country.  The idea is that if you have, say, a French citizen who is associated with a terrorist group, that person might be under investigation by the French police, but they won’t be under surveillance by, say, the German or Spanish police.  Within the Schengen Area (the territories of the 26 European countries that don’t have any restrictions on travel between them), that French citizen could travel to any other country–say, Germany–at which point they drop off of the French police’s radar, and are much freer to carry out an attack.

It’s so nice to have terms explained on French radio.  Even in your own native language (that’s English for me, not French), Zipf’s Law strikes on occasion.  As a side note, the ability of speakers of a language to explain words to one another is theoretically interesting to some extent, as on a very strong version of structuralism, it shouldn’t be possible for them to do that.  Clearly we can.  That doesn’t negate more reasonable versions of structuralism, though–it’s a useful way of thinking about language.

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