WRITE PATH: As insistent as it is on getting the details right when discussing a weapon system or program, DOD is less careful in observing differences in meaning and using words correctly. (Image by Getty Images)
How far back does DOD’s curious locution go?
By Steve Stark
Let’s get one thing clear, “to include” does not mean “including.” In certain instances, it can sort of mean “including,” and in others, it can render a sentence unintelligible. And that’s where the problem is.
Since I began working at a DOD contractor in 2001, I’ve heard nearly all of the top ranks use it—members of Congress, Soldiers, contractors, government civilians. Everyone. But it remains as wrong now as it was nearly 20 years ago.
On the first page of the preface to the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,” there’s a screaming example of this.
“This publication,” we learn, applies to pretty much everyone and everything within the DOD realm. The weirdness starts in the next sentence. “It is the primary terminology source when preparing correspondence, to include policy, strategy, doctrine, and planning documents.” (Emphasis added.)
For someone who cares about clarity and meaning, that sentence is very close to mystifying, even if the vast majority of people within DOD would find it entirely comprehensible.
The difference between including and to include is the difference between open and closed. That’s because to include is an infinitive and including is a preposition. Including is also an “-ing” word, which makes it just a little bit harder, because it could also be a gerund or present participle. It is neither; it’s a preposition.
Prepositions, in general, indicate position, direction or location spatially (up, down), temporally (before, after) and more subtle location-direction stuff, like “like.” Like is a preposition that demonstrates a kind of proximity, even if it’s not physical. “Including” is a preposition that tells us that everything that follows it shall be included. (Include comes from the Latin for in and close, so including encloses. And what prepositions give meaning to are words that represent things. “The anvil hangs over his head.” Not a lot of question there about where the anvil is.
What an infinitive does—or is supposed to do—is different, and infinitives can be a little flaky. By themselves, infinitives are rather conceptual. “To be or not to be.” “To receive is a blessing. To give is divine.” But for the most part, an infinitive is paired with another verb to help it out. “I planned to send you the check, but I didn’t have your address.”
In that sentence, the verb is planned and to send is what I intended to do. (See how intended to do fits together? At the same time, notice the conditional nature of to send and to do.)
To recap, including is a preposition and to include is an infinitive. And just as intelligence units and artillery units have different jobs, so do infinitives and prepositions. If you need air support, you don’t call in housekeeping.
IT GOES BACK A WRONG TIME
When and how people in DOD started saying this is anyone’s guess. A financial management expert I interviewed a few years ago theorized that it might have come from contract language, used precisely because to include does not mean including. That weasel-wording, the expert said, can give the government an out. That makes some sense.
“The government shall provide to the contractor a variety of items, to include payment, reporting and other stuff.”
That sentence is weaselly. The phrase “provide to include” is effectively meaningless. The real question, for my purposes, was to try to find out how long this has been going on. My father worked at the Pentagon in Air Force logistics back in the Vietnam era, and I never heard him say it. (If he had, my mother would have corrected him mercilessly.)
As many readers are aware, Army AL&T magazine, under different names and in slightly different forms, has been published by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and its predecessor organizations since 1960. So, what better resource than Army AL&T’s own archives to see how long this strangeness has been going on?
A REALLY WRONG TIME
So I went online to look in the Army AL&T archives, which contain the entire history of this publication.
However, looking through the archive might be problematic—editors should have changed it, except in quotes.
Not surprisingly, a search turned up vastly more correct uses of to include than incorrect. In the article, “Prevention of Deterioration Center Serves All National Defense Agencies,” by Dr. C.J. Wessel and Dr. W.M. Bejuki, the authors wrote: “The materials and equipment encompassed in the scope of the Center work may be said to include all those utilized by the Armed Forces, exclusive of foods and drugs” [sic]. (The Prevention of Deterioration Center looked at the deterioration of military materiel.)
Say whatever else you want about that sentence, which appeared in the July 1961 issue of Army Research and Development Newsmagazine, a predecessor of Army AL&T, but it uses the infinitive correctly.
In April of that same year, another article, this one only two paragraphs long, “Army Shows Rapid Growth In Basic Research Grants,” also uses the infinitive correctly. “In less than 11 full months of operation since the basic research grants program was inaugurated by the Chief of Research and Development, it has expanded to include work in 126 universities and colleges funded at $5,317,276,” the unnamed author wrote.
In both of those examples, the infinitive “to include” helps out the verb that precedes it by clarifying what the author wants to make known. In the first example, the verb formation is “may be said.” The “work may be said to include” all of the equipment that the armed forces use. In the second example, the verb phrase is “has expanded.” So, the grant has “expanded to include.”
Right as rain. Total sense.
THINGS GO AWRY
In the September-December 1971 issue of what was by then updated to Army Research and Development News Magazine, there were three instances of “to include,” two of them the incorrect DOD version. A news article called “DCRD Outlines Concepts of New Initiative Programs of R&D to Meet New Army Materiel Requirements” recorded Maj. Gen. George Sammet Jr.’s October 1971 presentation to the National Security Industrial Association Symposium. (The National Security Industrial Association has been a part of the National Defense Industry Association since 1997.) At the time, Sammet was the Army’s deputy chief of research and development. Sammet told the association about research and development support of dynamic training, saying, “The areas of individual and unit training are under intensive study. The trend in individual training techniques is one of self-paced, hands-on training, to include peer instruction.” (Emphasis added.)
So, this affectation goes back to at least 1971. But why is this wrong?
Remember, an infinitive generally helps out the verb that comes before it. In this case, we have “The trend … is … to include …”
It reads that “the trend” (subject of the sentence) “is” (verb) “to include peer instruction.” But Sammet wasn’t talking about what the trend was supposed to include. He was talking about a much smaller part of the trend, self-paced and hands-on learning. But it isn’t written that way.
So, big deal.
TELL IT TO THE JUDGE
You could argue that this is splitting hairs. And in that example, perhaps it is. A conversation, a squib in a magazine or a longer feature—these things have the potential for typos or other errors that don’t really amount to much. And who hasn’t said, “You know what I mean.”
The problem is when you get into contracts or policy or even law. I haven’t looked to see whether Title 10 uses to include when it should say including, but I wouldn’t be surprised—wait. I just looked it up. Title 10 of the U.S. Code uses it a lot. But that’s another story.
When law or policy uses this locution, that could be a problem. Here’s an example from DOD policy on bridge contracts. This policy came to my attention because of that article.
A bridge action describes a non-competitive action requiring a justification to include, but not limited to, a formal justification and approval (FAR Part 6 or 13.5), limited sources justification (FAR Subpart 8.4), and exception to fair opportunity (FAR Subpart 16.5), to retain the current or similar product or service as a result of delay in the negotiation and award of a follow-on contract.
Wait. What? When I first read that sentence, it made my head spin like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist.”
No one would mistake policy for art. It seeks to pack in a lot and prescribes what should be done. Period. In this case, however, it also comes very close—thanks to the swap of to include for including—to being meaningless, which is one of the last things that you want policy to be.
“A bridge action describes a non-competitive action requiring a justification” is clear enough, if you happen to know anything about DOD contracting. But then it goes totally off the rails.
The common phrase is “including but not limited to,” of which only “including” has any real meaning. (Inherent in the meaning of including is the idea that not everything has been or would be listed.) Where the sentence descends into meaninglessness is the swap of to include for including. Meaning disappears.
What the policy’s authors wanted to say, in no uncertain terms, is that a bridge action makes it necessary to file a whole bunch of justifying documents, including things required by statute, to ensure that the organization isn’t throwing money away. But it doesn’t say that.
Remember, the infinitive helps out a verb, clarifying what the verb is all about. In this case, we have “describes” as the verb. So “a bridge action describes to include, but not limited to, a formal justification …”
I don’t mean to cast aspersions here except at the locution. It just makes no sense—both literally and figuratively.
I have no illusions that anyone is going to change the way they talk. The evidence in our archive shows that, despite editors’ best efforts, this odd affectation—for it is that, an affectation—breaks through.
Nor do I have any doubts that I will hear from readers pointing out inaccuracies here. I’m always up for learning something—especially why anyone would think this usage is justifiable.
Still, the language that DOD uses—as exemplified by the Joint Chiefs’ dictionary—could use some serious critical thinking. And it’s needed it for a long time. People say things all the time without really knowing what they mean. That’s entirely understandable because acquisition is so complex. But to further complexify it with affected language helps no one.
DOD can be really particular, even picky, about definitions. Take for example the recent mandate that, in DOD terminology, face mask and face covering are two different things, the former being exclusively medical grade. Just in case anyone is confused.
The utter wrongness of the to include usage also stands out sore-thumbishly in other ways. For an organization that cares about operational security, it might just be a bad idea to habituate people to talking in a way that nobody else does. The DOD person is easy to spot as soon as they open their mouth.
To harass the author about any of his usage, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
Subscribe to Army AL&T News – the premier online news source for the Army Acquisition Workforce. Subscribe