December 28, 2003

In the comments on the previous entry, J. M. Heinrichs asks for an interpretation of the enigmatic phrase 'CI CIN CID', which is apparently inscribed on a banner displayed by an American soldier in Iraq in a picture posted by Sgt. Stryker on Christmas Eve. I don't know whether I need new glasses or (more likely) a new and larger monitor, but I cannot see these letters at all. Assuming they have been correctly reported, I can say that they are not Latin. At least they are not whole Latin words, and CID is not even a Latin abbreviation, since the only word in the unabridged Latin dictionaries that starts with cid- is the rare cidaris, Persian for 'tiara' or 'diadem', specifically the headress of the Persian king of kings. I can't see that being quoted, much less abbreviated, by an American soldier in Iraq. What would be the point?

Then again, perhaps the inscription is Latin, but not Latin words. CI is of course a properly-formed Roman number and means 101. I believe the 101st Airborne Division is operating in Iraq, though that leaves CIN and CID unexplained. On the other hand, it was the 4th Infantry Division that captured Saddam, and I have the impression that this picture is supposed to be Saddam's spider hole, not just any old spider hole.

Speaking of which, I have not seen any discussion of the etymology of 'spider hole' on the web or the evening news. It must come from the habits of trapdoor spiders. As this Texas A&M entomology page puts it:

Trapdoor spiders dig a tunnel in the ground and seal it with a hinged lid. They wait patiently behind this trap door until they sense prey passing nearby. Then they rush out to capture the prey and drag it down into the tunnel.

Then they eat the prey, or feed it to their young. The spider's trap door fits snugly in the mouth of its hole, very much like the styrofoam plug used to conceal the entrance to Saddam's septic tank. (Riddle: What's the one thing that could make a septic tank even filthier than a full load of human waste? Having a filthy brute like Saddam in it. Human waste is clean by comparison.) The pictures on this U.C. Irvine page give a vivid illustration of just how well the trapdoor spider conceals her burrow and herself.

Judging from the etymology, I would guess that 'spider hole' was first used of human beings when soldiers thought of putting camouflaged lids on their foxholes so they could pop out and shoot unwary enemies at close range, and was only later extended to mean holes for deposed dictators to hide in. Whoever coined the phrase must have known a thing or two about actual spiders. I wonder if the Oxford English Dictionary knows all this.

Update: (12/29, 8:15 AM)

This list of military abbreviations gives CI - Counter-Intelligence and CID - Criminal Investigation Division, but no CIN. CI and CID are rather different things, but I imagine they work together in Iraq, since it's hard to tell whether an armed thug is a Ba'athist insurgent or just a criminal until you catch him -- and maybe not even then. If (as I'm guessing from the names) CID handles ordinary decent criminals and CI handles insurgents, they would have to coordinate their activities.

The problem is that we now have two possibilities for CI -- 101st Airborne or Counter-Intelligence -- and none for CIN. Suggestions, anyone?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at December 28, 2003 11:49 PM

I think it says G1, for admin. O in , O ID, for regiment and division, since it's a joke about collecting a fee for the photo op.

Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech on December 29, 2003 07:47 PM

Right above that it says "Thanks, 1 Lt. Turner" so it's more likely his regimental and division info.

Posted by: scott h. on January 2, 2004 12:25 AM

The Tassled One is correct. The acronyms are just part of the joke.

Posted by: Stryker on January 3, 2004 05:07 PM

Speaking of Spider Holes (and synchronicity): The movie Red Dawn (which provided the name for the operation that nabbed Saddam) features one of the greatest (only?) spider hole scenes in all of modern cinema.

In the scene, the girls, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey, lure a threesome of evil Soviet troopers into a wheat field where they are gunned down by teenaged Wolverines popping up out of their carefully prepared spider holes.

Posted by: H.D. Miller on January 8, 2004 03:07 PM

Safire on "spider hole."

Posted by: language hat on January 9, 2004 04:46 PM