Since the attacks in Paris, both John Kerry
Hollande have used it. The Kurdish militants battling ISIS in Iraq already
use the term regularly, though they risk losing their tongues by uttering it.
Daesh is an acronym. It stands for the Arabic name of the Islamic State: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. When Jen Percy, a New Republic contributor, went to northern Iraq this year, the Assyrian Christians waging a war against ISIS were calling ISIS troops “Daesh.” In her article for our September issue, she called it “a pejorative term for ISIS in Arabic.”
Zeba Khan, writing for the Boston Globe, has explained why “Daesh” could be read as an insult: “Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others.’”
In light of its more unsavory connotations, ISIS leaders threatened last June “to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name,” according to the Associated Press.