Exploring why some say we should call ISIS ‘Daesh’

ISIS black and white flag

For the past few years, a new word has been popping up to describe the group known as ISIS, ISIL and the Islamic State. That word is 'Daesh.'

In this mini-episode of The World in Words, we explore the meaning of the word Daesh. You may have heard French President François Hollande use the word in the wake of the Paris attacks, in lieu of ISIS or ISIL or Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry has been using the term for the past year as well.

Daesh isn't actually a word, but an acronym for the Arabic name of the group: 'لدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام' ('al-dowla al-islaamiyya fii-il-i’raaq wa-ash-shaam').  And the jihadist group doesn’t exactly like being known by their acronym DAESH. In the podcast we explore why. We hear from writer Zeba Khan and linguist Alice Guthrie about Daesh. How do you pronounce it? What does it mean exactly? Who coined it? And why does the group that we commonly know as ISIS dislike it so much?


00:35 French President François Hollande in the wake of the attacks

00:47 US Secretary of State John Kerry has been using ‘Daesh’ for the past year and so have many other nationstates outside of the Middle East

2:27 How to pronounce ‘Daesh’

3:30 An acronym which challenges legitimacy

4:56 Daesh sounds slightly like the Arabic word, ‘daes’

5:16 The Syrian activist who coined the term ‘Daesh’

6:13 There’s something about the word evokes a dark period of history

8:16 How the media gets it wrong

10:18 The ways in which you can play with this made up word, ‘Daesh’

13:00 Satire is only so powerful


"Behind the ISIS/ISIL conundrum" by Christopher Woolf

"Words matter in 'ISIS' war, so use 'Daesh'" by Zeba Khan

"Decoding Daesh: Why is the new name for ISIS so hard to understand?" by Alice Guthrie

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