Terrorism is a word which can often upset people who wonder why it’s used to describe some violent acts and not others.
But according to linguists it does define a specific act, even though that may be changing.
University of Calgary Associate Professor and Chair of the Linguistics Department Darin Flynn said there needs to be a connection to an ideology, usually religious or political, for an act to be considered terrorism, with one literal exception.
“If someone just keeps at it, just keeps terrorizing people, then they could be labelled a terrorist even though they’re not affiliated with a particular group or ideology,” he said.
But in terms of the strict definition, it doesn’t mean someone need accomplices. Terrorists only need to be driven by an ideology to get that label.
“There’s pressure to expand the word terrorist on both sides [of the political spectrum] but these are political pressures, they’re not necessarily what people are doing,” explained Flynn.
He said language and meaning is always changing, but there needs to be consensus, something which can be hard to find.
“For the FBI, and act of terror for them refers to only a violent act that is meant to coerce people or scare people and it has to be driven by ideology, religious or political,” said Flynn.
In Nevada, the state definition is much broader stating an act doesn’t need to be driven by ideology to be considered terror.
Even though people are using the word in new ways, Flynn added sometimes language simply won’t let you apply a word in a certain context.