For a long time — probably beginning in the 1970s — this “-ize” neologism was in the exclusive domain of military and international-relations jargon. Uses were infrequent, but the word occurred as early as 1984 — e.g.: “‘Absolutely no work is being done to develop, manufacture, store or weaponize biological warfare agents,’ the [Pentagon] statement says.” R. Jeffrey Smith, “New Army Biowarfare Lab Raises Concerns,” Science, 7 Dec. 1984, at 1176.
After September 11, 2001, when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center in New York and attacked the Pentagon, the general public became more aware of biological warfare and bioterrorism. Shortly after that event, cases of anthrax started appearing in cities scattered throughout the U.S., and the word sprang into general use — e.g.:
o “The United States suspected, but lacked the intelligence to ascertain (have they learned nothing?) that Iraq had, in militaryspeak, ‘weaponized anthrax and botulinum’ for use in the Gulf War.” Martin Levin, “The Bio-Warriors,” Globe & Mail, 22 Sept. 2001, at D16.
o “Not only did the incident lift the curtain on the Soviet Union’s decades-long program to weaponize disease — hundreds of tons of anthrax, and a few dozen tons of plague and smallpox, were stored around the country for potential deployment in bombs and missiles — but it brought home how vulnerable crowded urban areas are to biological warfare.” Ken Alibek & Stephen Handelman, “Bioterror: A Very Real Threat,” Wall Street J., 11 Oct. 2001, at A22.
Although many neologisms ending in “-ize” are considered ugly and undesirable, the very thing that “weaponize” (as well as “weaponization”) denotes is horrific. And there’s no other word for it. So this is a word whose coinage almost no one objects to — all the right-minded objections focus on the thing that the word denotes.
For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
Quotation of the Day: “Mankind has not yet mastered language; often it has mastered them — scientists and all. Few of them realize this. And that only makes it worse.” F.L. Lucas, Style 21 (1955; repr. 1962).