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The Hurt Locker

But at a press conference Wednesday in Southfield, Mich., Sarver, who won the bronze star after disarming more IEDs than any single team since the Iraq War began, told reporters that he was \"hurt after being cut out of 'The Hurt Locker,' no pun intended.\"

The Hurt Locker

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Sarver's nickname, \"Blaster One,\" became the lead character's nickname. And Sarver said he coined the phrase \"hurt locker\" to describe a psychological place that soldiers go when they've have a bad day or lost someone in their unit.

The phrase was given a particular boost as the title of the 2008 film, Hurt Locker, which was about an army bomb squad. Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, who was serving in Iraq in 2004, later claimed he coined the phrase hurt locker, in spite of the historical evidence.

Hurt locker has enjoyed a range of metaphorical extensions, often used in the phrase to be in the hurt locker. Sports writers use hurt locker, for instance, to describe injured players or teams having a bad season. Economists may describe a company having a bad year or experiencing falling stock values as being in an economic hurt locker. Video gamers have taken to the expression as well to describe how they will dispatch with opponents or bad guys, as have fitness enthusiasts and trainers for intense workouts.

This is not meant to be a formal definition of hurt locker like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of hurt locker that will help our users expand their word mastery.

With six Oscars to its name, the film The Hurt Locker is the toast of Hollywood. But what of the name itself? There's much speculation on the internet about the origins of the phrase, so what is a hurt locker?

The press pack for Kathyrn Bigelow's film claims "hurt locker" is GI slang for severe injury. But the film's writer, who picked up on the phrase during his time as an embedded journalist with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit in 2004, is rather more vague in his definition.

"If a bomb goes off, you're going to be in the hurt locker. That's how they used it in Baghdad," Mark Boal told the New Yorker. "It means slightly different things to different people, but all the definitions point to the same idea. It's somewhere you don't want to be."

"It's from a Texas newspaper and it says 'If an army marches on its stomach, Old Charlie is in the hurt locker'. Old Charlie is the Viet Cong. It is similar to the phrases 'world of hurt' or 'world of pain'.

But this piece of military slang has given a title to a poem about the Iraq invasion as well. In 2005, soldier-poet Brian Turner published Here, Bullet, a well-received collection of poems penned during his 11-month tour of duty in 2003-4. Among these was The Hurt Locker, which begins with the line "Nothing but hurt left here" and contains spare, sad stanzas on suicide bombers and snipers. "Open the hurt locker and learn/how rough men come hunting for souls."

Until the second Iraq war, in 2003, use of the phrase in the mainstream media has tended to be in a sporting, rather than military, context. In 2000, the skipper of AmericaOne was quoted in the Washington Post talking to his crew about their dispirited rivals in the America's Cup yacht race: "There's a world of hurt on that boat. That's a hurt-locker over there."

Just as a hatful of Academy Awards will boost box office takings and DVD sales for the film, the phrase "hurt locker" will also see a spike in usage, at least temporarily, says Robert Groves, of Collins Dictionary.

One of the frontrunners for Best Picture in Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony is Kathryn Bigelow's tense depiction of a U.S. bomb squad unit in Iraq, The Hurt Locker. The movie's official website says of the title, "In Iraq, it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending you to 'the hurt locker.'" In fact, like so much American military slang, hurt locker (along with related hurt expressions) dates back to the Vietnam War.

In The Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Jonathan Lighter includes an extended entry for hurt in its military use, which he defines as "trouble or suffering, esp. deliberately or callously inflicted." One common use of hurt that sprang up in the Vietnam era is in the phrase a world of hurt, "great trouble or suffering." In "My First Day in Viet Nam Combat," an Oct. 15, 1967 battle report in the Chicago Tribune, new recruit Russell Enlow wrote, "But now, as I drained the last drop from the fourth canteen, I realized what a world of hurt I would be in if that resupply chopper didn't show."

Vietnam was a breeding ground for other hurt phrases, such as in the hurt locker, in the hurt bag and in the hurt seat, all defined by Lighter as "in trouble or at a disadvantage; in bad shape." On February 21, 1966, an Associated Press article by John T. Wheeler appeared in many newspapers around the country, quoting a U.S. military adviser as saying, "If an army marches on its stomach, old Charlie is in the hurt locker." ("Charlie is an American nickname for the Viet Cong," Wheeler explained to readers not yet familiar with such slang.) Then on July 27, 1967, in another AP report by Wheeler, hurt locker showed up in a quote from a corporal: "Then old Charlie opens up with those damned AK47 assault rifles, and, whammo, we were really in the hurt locker."

Hurt bag and hurt seat also saw some play (Lighter cites a drill instructor in 1971 who said, "I'm gonna put you in the hurt seat and leave you there!"), but it was hurt locker that had staying power. After the war, many memoirs and fictionalized accounts kept the phrase circulating, perhaps most notably the 1978 novel Fields of Fire by Jim Webb, a Marine Corps infantry officer who now serves in the U.S. Senate from Virginia. Near the beginning of the book, Webb has one Marine say to another, "We could really be in the hurt locker tonight."

Moving ahead a few decades to the Iraq War, hurt locker found new resonance when it was used as the title of a poem written by Brian Turner in 2004. On his return from a year of Army service in Iraq, Turner published Here, Bullet (2005), a critically acclaimed collection of poetry inspired by his wartime experiences. "The Hurt Locker" begins in typically wrenching fashion, "Nothing but the hurt left here," and ends:

This moving poem was, perhaps, an inspiration for screenwriter Mark Boal (a journalist who was embedded with a bomb squad in Iraq) and director Kathryn Bigelow when they set about naming their film. It's a terse summation of the "world of hurt" in which Explosive Ordnance Disposal units often find themselves. The phrase has a claustrophobic feel, as if soldiers are trapped within the confined space of a military gear locker. It's hard to imagine a more fitting title for this gut-punch of a movie.

[Update: Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver, who was part of the unit Boal reported on, has filed a lawsuit against the makers of The Hurt Locker, claiming that Boal based the central character on him. According to the Detroit News, Sarver is also claiming that he coined the expression hurt locker. Sarver's lawyer should have checked out Google News Archive first.]

'My lungs were on fire but I was moving! I caught Dave Weins with about 7 miles left and he encouraged me to chase the two guys who where just 30 seconds ahead. I only had one climb left and my body was in the hurt locker.'

Though the expression is open to a degree of interpretation depending on the context, most sources seem to agree that hurt locker is connected with pain and severe discomfort, either physical or emotional. The phrase is used by the US military as slang for serious injury, whatever form that might take. The expression most commonly appears as part of the phrase be in the hurt locker, i.e.: if you are in the hurt locker, you are seriously injured and thereby incapacitated, either temporarily or permanently. If a bomb goes off or there's a major offensive, then inevitably someone will end up in the hurt locker. Also common is the wider expression put (someone) in the hurt locker, which means to cause someone serious injury.

Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary claim that the first recorded example of hurt locker dates back to 1966, when it was used by a US newspaper in relation to the Viet Cong, the army that fought the US and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam war. The term crossed over from military to sporting contexts, and over time the sporting use became more prevalent. This was the case right up until the Iraq war of 2003, which finally re-kindled the expression's military usage.

The 2009 film has undoubtedly brought hurt locker into wider recognition. Inspiration for the title came from the experiences of Mark Boal, the film's writer, who picked up on the phrase in 2004 during his time as an 'embed' journalist with a bomb disposal unit.Being hurt is, of course, experiencing physical pain. Locker is thought to be used because it relates both to the place where soldiers keep their things and an enclosed space which can be difficult to escape from. 041b061a72

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