The term has long annoyed me (well, as long as Fox and others have been using it, which I suppose hasn’t been that long), so I thought I’d repost Juan Non-Volokh’s post on this from two and a half years ago (one paragraph break added):
“HOMICIDE BOMBERS”: I know that it has become fashionable in some circles to use the term “homicide bomber” in place of “suicide bomber.” This is unfortunate. Even though I am generally sympathetic to the political views of those who use the term, I think that it represents a positively Orwellian misuse of the English language for political purposes of exactly the sort that many who use the term would otherwise condemn.
Would it make any sense to refer to a murderer as a “homicide killer”? Should we have called the D.C. snipers the “homicide snipers”? Of course not. Why not? Because it is redundant and the addition of the word “homicide” does not clarify or provide additional detail. If a killer took his own life after that of his victim(s), it would make no sense to refer to him as a “homicide killer.” The same is true here.
Indeed, the only purpose of inserting the word “homicide” is to make a political statement. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of the English language. Any terrorist bomber who kills is a “homicide bomber.” What is unique in these situations is not that a terrorist is killing people — terrorists do that as a matter of course — but that the terrorist is taking his (or, in at least one case, her) own life in the process. This is what makes suicide bombings different from an “ordinary” terrorist bombing — and what makes this sort of attack particuarly difficult to stop.
I know what some of you are thinking: Somehow, using the phrase “suicide bomber” unnecessarily validates the actions of these terrorists, and downplays the evil nature of their attacks, whereas the phrase “homicide bomber” makes clear how terrible they are. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. The phrase “suicide bomber” is simply more descriptive and accurate.
UPDATE: Many readers disagree with me — as I suspected some might. A few have suggested alternative appellations for these deranged murderers. One is “kamikaze bomber.” I agree that this is very descriptive. My one question would be whether this phrase implies an elemnet of martyrdom.
Another alternative is “suicide killer,” though I tend to think “suicide bomber” conveys the same message. While it is conceivable that someone could be a “suicide bomber” without trying to kill others, I can not think of an example of this ever happening. The closest thing I can recall are political protesters who lit themselves on fire, but such acts are far more contained act than bombing.
I’m not quite as troubled by this as Juan is — I don’t think there’s much damage done to the language as a result — but “bomber” is a pejorative enough term, adding “suicide” adds important information while doing nothing to soften the pejorative, and adding “homicide” does little to strengthen the pejorative (especially since “homicide” is a bit legalese) while stripping away the information that “suicide” added.