The change was little noticed when the terminology started to pop up in speeches by President George Bush and other officials. But now it is everywhere, signifying two realisations: that the "war on terror" is as meaningless a term as the "war on drugs"; and that it will not be won by military means alone.
As recently as a month ago, Mr Bush was still referring to the "war on terror", but now the enemy has acquired the human form of "violent extremists" or, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, put it last Friday, "enemies of freedom, the enemies of civilisation".
This week General Richard Myers, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon, went further, saying that "the long term problem is... more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military".
The linguistic shift has been brought on by circumstances. Increasingly, Americans oppose the war in Iraq, and do not believe the President when he insists the 2003 invasion was part of the "war on terror" that began on 11 September 2001.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military most certainly is at war. But on the home front, the only visible manifestation is tightened security. It has become harder to convince the public that the country is indeed at war in the generally accepted sense.
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