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Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Mission’s name draws chuckles from Americans

May 4, 2002

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— The latest mission to pursue al-Qaida and Taliban fighters is drawing chuckles from American forces not for its objective, nor for its methods, but for its name.

In a tiny case of cultures clashing, "Operation Snipe," a name chosen by Britain, fails to take into account the existence of a more jocular American tradition: the "snipe hunt."

What exactly is a snipe hunt? It depends on where you come from or which dictionary you're reading.

Webster's defines the snipe as "any of various usually slender-billed birds" the accepted British meaning.

But The Dictionary of American Slang calls it "a nonexistent animal," and says a snipe hunt is sending out someone on a wild-goose chase.

The quest to clear up the confusion led a reporter on what at times appeared to be a snipe hunt of his own Friday.

It began with the British peacekeepers in Kabul, who were oblivious to the linguistic gaffe involved in the new operation's moniker.

"It's a game bird, a bit like pheasant," said Lt. Col. Neil Peckham of Wiltshire, England. "It would be a bird that is hunted as part of an organized shoot."

And in the United States? Capt. Bill Peoples of the U.S. Army, a native of Nashville, Tenn., stood silent for a few moments, then exploded.

"You have got to be kidding!" he bellowed, angrily waving his arm. "I'm not going to answer that question."

He said a few other things, too less polite things but asked that they not be published.

Then he kicked the reporter off his base.

Britain, Peoples said once he calmed down, "is a coalition partner of ours, and I don't think it's right for us to make fun of what they name their operations."

Fair enough, but the question remained.

Joe Crowley, an aid worker from Morgan Hill, Calif., had a clue: "I think it means maybe to search for something that doesn't exist?"

Maj. Steve Daugherty of Clarksville, Tenn., was more confident.

"You just send somebody to find something that doesn't exist so you can have some fun at their expense," he said.

The American Dictionary of Slang says that in a snipe hunt, "an uninitiated person is left to watch for a 'snipe' ... while his supposed hunting companions, the hoaxers, leave him to discover the joke."

That's the meaning Col. Wayland Parker learned the hard way at his Jacksonville, Fla., high school.

"They took all the new guys out to the beach on a snipe hunt," he said. "Of course, not a single snipe showed up and we were left there to figure it out on our own. I waited there for a couple of hours."

Then he leaned closer.

"Believe it or not, they actually have snipes here in Afghanistan," he confided. "If you go out to the stadium, we'll herd them in to you."

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