The terrorist group ISIS, which took responsibility for the coordinated attacks in Paris, goes by a lot of other names. Keeping up with all of them can be very confusing, given the headlines they've made recently. So what's the difference between the "the Islamic State," "ISIS," "ISIL," and "Daesh"? All of them refer to ISIS, but two of them are simply different translations of the group's name, one gives the terrorists more legitimacy, and the last mocks them.
French President Francois Hollande has referred to the group as Daesh since Friday's attacks, which left 129 people dead. This is a calculated move on his part, because "Daesh" is one name that the group does not want to be called. It has threatened to cut out the tongue of any person who used the name. Also spelled DAIISH, the term is derogatory. Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia University professor and expert on Syrian history, told CNN that those who don't agree with ISIS call it DAIISH.
DAIISH is an Arabic acronym for "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham." Boston Globe writer Zeba Khan reported last year that depending on how it is said in Arabic, it can be directly insulting. With the right wordplay, those who oppose ISIS could say "Daesh" and mean "to trample down and crush” or “a bigot who imposes his view on others." That's why since the Paris attacks, both the hacker group Anonymous and President Barack Obama have referred to the group by this name.
ISIS's other three names are seen as more legitimate. The jihadists in the group refer to it as the Islamic State, in a reference to the caliphate that they are trying to form in the Middle East. Some leaders and media refuse to use this name, saying that it gives the group more legitimacy. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that using the term "blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists." To Fabius, the group is certainly not a state, and does not represent all of Islam — two titles that it's desperately trying to achieve.
The last two names — ISIS and ISIL — are just different translations that use "Islamic State" and describe the group's geographic location. "ISIS" is an acronym for "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" or "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham." Many say that the "al-Sham" part is better translated as "Levant," which refers to a larger area that includes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. The term "ISIL" stems from the latter translation.
CNN noted that its global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, uses "ISIL" because the group has extended its reach past Iraq and Syria, and that the U.S. — including President Obama — uses "ISIL" because it's a more accurate translation, and because it does not want to recognize the group's caliphate goal by using "Islamic State."
All of the names refer to ISIS. Some can subtly acknowledge the group's goals, and Daesh is a direct knock at its legitimacy.