“Wal-Mart Strafes Amazon in Book War” blares the page one headline in today’s Wall Street Journal. “Strafe” would have sent me running for cover, had I known its meaning. Instead it sent me scurrying to the dictionary.
As it turns out, strafe has a very specific—and rather lengthy—meaning. To quote American Heritage: “To attack (ground troops, for example) with a machine gun or cannon from a low-flying aircraft.” Like trench coat, strafe is a vestige of World War I. It’s from the German strafen, to punish, which is what Germany wanted to do to England at the time.
That war is over. Now it seems Wal-Mart and Amazon will engage in their own punishing campaign to see who can go lower on the price of a book. (Mainly it’s authors who will get punished.)
Strafe is what I call a one-syllable wonder: one of those economical words in our language that says in one sound what might otherwise take a sentence to explain. Add it to your arsenal of words that pack a powerful punch. And if someone threatens to strafe you, take cover.