Word Smith: Dossier

With the various calamities of oversharing (Julian Assange and Wikileaks) and undersharing (AG Wm. Barr), the word dossier has been slung around a lot lately. The punctuation mark falls on the “Steele Dossier,” which seems to be the beginning of the Mueller Investigation and the renewed notoriety for the word!

An interesting archaic word to use with its origins and meanings, dossier refers to a collection of papers or other sources, containing detailed information about a particular person or subject. It seems to be obscure how it got its meaning. The dossier in French is a compendium of spine labeled folders, which seems to have been derived from the word “dos” which means “back” in Latin. The English word dorsal, as in dorsal fin on a whale, comes from the same root. Thus a dossier is a collection of documents related to the affairs of a certain individual, sorted into specific spine labeled folders and appropriately marked and arranged in a single box.

Thinking of the word dossier, J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI come to mind, as he and the Bureau compiled dossiers on hundreds of thousands of people with the explicit goal of protecting the security and integrity of the US. Things seemed to be safe and OK, as long as none of the dossiers were on YOU. If they were then all hell would break loose. Think of all US presidents from FDR to Richard Nixon. At one point, under the freedom of information act, the FBI agreed to show anyone who asked to see them their background dossiers among the FBI’s collection. The catch 22 was that if no such file existed, they created one going forward. Be careful what you ask for.

Other uses of the word: DOSSIER

Arts, entertainment, and media from Wikipedia [1]

  • Dossier 51, a 1978 film based on a book of the same name
  • Dossier Journal, an independently published and owned bi-annual arts and culture journal
  • The Miernik Dossier, first of seven novels by American novelist Charles McCarry

Specific dossiers

  • Farewell Dossier, documents that a KGB defector gave to the French DST in 1981–82
  • Iraq Dossier, a 2003 briefing document for the British Labour Party government concerning Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
  • September Dossier, a document published by the British government on 24 September 2002 concerning weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq
  • Trump–Russia dossier, a dossier containing allegations of a conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government, sometimes known as the “Steele dossier”
  • Westminster paedophile dossier, a dossier on paedophiles allegedly associated with the British government

Other uses

  • Dossier criminal, a term used by Indian police forces to classify criminals
  • Global Dossier, an online public service launched in June 2014 by the five Intellectual Property offices


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump%E2%80%93Russia_dossier