In my long and diverse life, I’ve been described variously as a spy, linguist, cryptographer, and, finally, writer. But the two descriptive terms I liked best were “swordsman” and “wordsman.”
A swordsman is first and foremost someone who does battle with a sword, but the word’s broader usage is to refer to a fighter, combatant, or soldier. Because of my years of assisting troops in combat, some of the few who knew of my time on the battlefield—it was classified until 2016—thought of me as a warrior, even though my role was not to fight but to provide intelligence to friendly forces. Moreover, I wasn’t even in the army or Marine Corps—I was civilian operating under cover as military. Nevertheless, many of my compatriots still spoke of me as a swordsman.
Nowadays, I am more often labelled a wordsman. The term has two meanings. The one I like best and accept as defining me is “A man who is a wordsmith.” I think of myself as an artist, one who creates beauty using words, but wordsmith is close enough. The other definition is “one who deals in words, or in mere words; a verbalist”—in short, one who places undue emphasis on words rather than on action. I reject that characterization and point to my history as evidence that I acted rather than merely talking.
So these days, when my time on the battlefield is long since over, I am content with being characterized as both a swordsman and wordsman.
I take both as compliments.