One of the many minor but telling irritations of the present day is the extent to which American phrases and linguistic usage has infiltrated everyday English English. I say that despite having lived and worked in the United States and (in the USA and elsewhere) alongside American people. In fact, I am still (despite the best efforts of parts of the Jewish Zionist lobby, including the crazed scribbler Louise Mensch) still a member of the New York Bar, at least on paper (I never practised there).
It was back in the early 1990s when I first heard someone (a West Indian woman) use the term “train station” to designate what everyone I knew until then had called a “railway station” or sometimes “rail station”. When I questioned the term, she replied that she had never heard such places called anything but “train stations”. My theory was that that was the influence of latter-day American films, particularly those shown on Sky. Maybe. Since then, “train station” has become ubiquitous, even on the BBC.
One might say, “what does it matter?” whether railway stations are called “railway stations” or “train stations”. However, language does matter. Whole treatises have been written on the power of transformative vocabulary. The American military machine and its political masters used to be expert at that (far more so than the British). “Operation Desert Shield” conveyed a message; “Operation Desert Storm” a different one, a changed one. Sometimes it became awkward if pushed too far, as in the phrases used in the Vietnam War: “bodycount”, “free fire zone”, “friendly fire” and many others became notorious; some are still in use today.
Such manipulative use of language is common elsewhere. The linked worlds of special operations and espionage have given us “plausible deniability” etc, and that is before we even look at the sleazy swamp of the political milieu. I do not want to go off-track too far and lose my point in the morass of “hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit”, “helping people back to work” (indeed the ghastly “world of work” itself) etc.
Words create a mental landscape, they shape a society as surely as the architecture of our cities and, to be rather topical, public statuary.
It matters whether the influx of millions of non-Europeans into Europe and other European-inhabited lands is described as a “desperate” “movement” of “refugees” or as a “flood” of “migrant-invaders”, indeed as a “migration-invasion” (my favourite) or simply as an “invasion”.
It matters if “social security” (in the British use of the term), meaning a “safety net” or system available to those who need it (and, importantly, into which most if not all of those using it have paid, one way or another) is then changed to “welfare”, a term which gives the impression of money or food thrown at (probably undeserving and probably useless) eaters, who are, again, “probably” taking money from “the taxpayer” (not even “the State”).
It matters if “free speech” is in many cases re-designated as “hate speech” and/or “hate crime”.
So we return to “thank you for your service”…one of the least meaningful phrases around. An American affectation, which seems to say, “this person served in ‘the military’ in some capacity and so we regard him –or her– as heroic.” It of course bears little relationship to reality. Most service personnel, even in a war, are not anywhere near the “front-line” or active fighting areas. Indeed, many American service personnel never even leave the shores of the USA. In Britain, that idea crept in during the Falklands campaign, when anyone who had been to the Falklands in uniform became, ipso facto, a “Falklands hero”, courtesy of the Sun “newspaper”.
No-one disputes that a modern military system requires large numbers of accountants, lawyers, dentists, administrative people, pension experts etc, as well as cooks, drivers and the more obviously martial occupations of fighter pilot, tank commander, infantry soldier and commando. They all “do their bit”, in the English phrase of yesteryear. However, it seems strained to say “thank you for your service” to people who spent their entire service researching legal cases in Washington D.C., or fixing the plumbing on an Air Force base in Texas.
One notices that some scribblers who are very adherent to the Atlanticist or “New World Order” viewpoint are among the worst offenders (people such as Louise Mensch). In fact, it could be said that “thank you for your service” goes beyond affectation and constitutes an attempt to further Americanize the mentality of the British.
So it is that I plead for people to avoid the use of “thank you for your service”, even when addressing those who should be in that sense respected.