"Everything changed on 9/11." This was a phrase that you heard a lot in America in the days and weeks following the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001. There was a strong feeling of unity among citizens of the US, as well as a sense that the nation couldn't go back to the frivolity and thoughtlessness that had pervaded public life before the attacks.
Of course, as time progressed, it was clear that 9/11 hadn't really changed EVERYTHING. The newspaper editorials declaring the "death of irony" became suddenly ironic, other stories about non-terrorism started to creep back into the news and most Americans went back to obsessing about the things that had preoccupied them before 9/11 - work, bills, relationships, school, Pokemon and so forth.
But more than a decade later, we are starting to get a clearer picture of all the things that 9/11 really did change. Obviously, there are the significant global events that may not have come to pass if Al Qaeda had never flown planes into the Twin Towers - primary among them the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But there are a lot of more subtle cultural shifts that happened in America in the aftermath of 9/11.This is a list of the ways that 9/11 impacted American language and speech, phrases that were introduced to the lexicon in the aftermath of that terrible day and have, for good or bad, stuck with us and joined the pantheon of American slang and argot. Now let's roll...
The Axis of Evil
George W. Bush introduced the phrase "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union speech, using it to refer to the nations of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. (According to Bush, these nations earned their place in the "Axis" - notable as it was also the colloquial name of the united powers America faced off against during WWII - by helping terrorists and seeking weapons of mass destruction.) The phrase has been attributed to Bush's then-speechwriter David Frum, who apparently had originally come up with "axis of hatred."
The phrase was criticized heavily over the course of Bush's presidency, for ignoring the many other nations that commit "evil" but, for whatever reason, weren't included on the list, for implying without evidence that these nations were cooperating in some kind of villainous conspiracy, or just for using the phrase "evil" to describe entire countries. It inspired a number of other phrases, including a speech by UN Ambassador John Bolton called "Beyond the Axis of Evil," a speech by Condoleezza Rice about "Outposts of Tyranny" and other formulations such as the Axis of Belligerance, the Colonialist Axis and the Axis of Diesel.
It also became the subject of numerous parodies, comedy sketches and jokes. Too many to name here. Perhaps most notably, Will Ferrell appears as George W. Bush on "Saturday Night Live" mocking the State of the Union speech and the "Axis of Evil" concept specifically.
During the 2004 presidential election, Vice-President Dick Cheney repeatedly accused his Democratic opponent - John Kerry - of suffering from a deluded "pre-9/11 mindset." Here's a clip of Cheney making this very allegation, captured for posterity by "The Daily Show":
In March of 2003, the US, along with allies from the UK, Australia and Poland, invaded Iraq in the hopes of toppling the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. The government and people of France, however, expressed strong opposition to the plan at the time in the United Nations, thus earning them the ire of many Americans, and even inspiring a boycott of imported French goods and French businesses.
On March 11th, 8 days before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, two Republican congressmen - Robert Ney of Ohio and Walter Jones Jr. or North Carolina - declared that all references to "France" on the menus of restaurants and snack bars in the House of Representatives should be removed. French fries being such a staple food, however, complicated matters, so it was decided that they would be renamed "freedom fries." (French toast was also nicknamed "Freedom Toast," but that never really took off as a concept." Ney and Jones issues a statement explaining the decision: "This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France." Take that, you cheese-eating surrender monkeys!
Though there was some historical precedent (during WWI, sauerkraut was renamed "Liberty Cabbage" in the US), the move was largely mocked by the press, comedians and the public at large. It was suggested that American Cheese be renamed "idiot cheese," that turkey be renamed "Independence Bird" to disassociate itself with that country and even that all other words including the term "french" be changed - giving rise to phrases like "freedom kissing."Former Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant also released a song called "Freedom Fries," criticizing the Bush administration, on his "Mighty ReArranger" LP in 2005. Check it out above.
The term "weapon of mass destruction" - meaning a weapon capable of killing off a large number of humans, and decimating a wide area of natural or man-made environment - has been used in academic and political circles since the 1930s. The name itself, however, only really entered the public consciousness of Americans after 9/11, particularly during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
President Bush and numerous members of his executive team explained the need to eliminate the regime of Saddam Hussein by discussing his stockpile of WMDs. The unsuccessful search for WMDs in Iraq occupied much of the news coverage leading up to the war. (The Paul Greengrass film "Green Zone" with Matt Damon dramatizes the search for WMDs in the early days of the Iraq War.) Much of the discussion about media coverage of Iraq, and its impact on how Americans viewed the war, focused on the prevalence of the WMD argument.
Additionally, the inability to find WMDs once US soldiers were on the ground in the country was a turning point in the American public's growing dissatisfaction with the war effort. Once it became clear that the weapons were not as prevalent and the threat of Iraqi WMDs not as pressing as it had initially seemed, parodies began to appear, including this Internet Explorer 404 page mock-up that for a time was the #1 Google result for the phrase "WMD." As well, Air America radio - a progressive talk network - used the catchphrase "Weapons of Mass Deception" to describe their political opponents, and a controversial 2003 EasyJet ad campaign referred to a woman's breasts as "weapons of mass distraction."
Perhaps the most memorable parody was this interview between satirist Sacha Baron Cohen (portraying the character of simple-minded talk show host "Ali G") and American politician Pat Buchanan, about the dangers of Iraqi BLTs.