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I was listening to a dialogue/interview on the radio about a researcher in Africa, and she used an expression similar to:

I have been in country for around three months now, and in that time...

It sounded like a deliberate expression, not that she missed or omitted the word "the" before "country".

Of course, there is an obvious face-value meaning, such as "staying in the country", but it also seems to carry some other kind of connotation I can't express.

Am I over-analyzing this, or is there a meaning/connotation beyond the obvious?

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    It probably dates to the American involvement in Vietnam. It was a common expression used by troops referring to their tour overseas. Commented May 2, 2017 at 4:21
  • 2
    Relevant post at Phrase Finder concerning "in country", "in the country", and "in-country". Commented May 2, 2017 at 5:12
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    In my experience it's used by the U.S. foreign service (and possibly also troops) (and the British foreign service, probably) to indicate they're in the country to which they've been posted. They don't say "I'm living in France", but rather, I'm "in-country."
    – Xanne
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 6:19

6 Answers 6

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It is an expression mainly used in military or scientific contexts.

In-country:

being or taking place in a country that is the focus of activity (such as military operations or scientific research) by the government or citizens of another country:

  • scientists and in-country colleagues will carry out field research

  • Tropicus Conservation International readied my gear for my first mission in-country — Darryl Young

(M-W)

In-country(adverb & adjective):

In a country rather than operating from outside but in relation to it.

  • as adverb ‘the people we're putting in-country will get instructions from satellite radios’

Usage examples:

‘And then it hands over management of its own in-country operation to that very same company.’

‘The training has begun to have a multiplying effect with initial in-country training now extending to courses conducted outside Iraq.’

‘Typically the station operates out of an in-country US installation, with or without the knowledge of the host country.’

(ODO)

As shown in Ngrm the expression was used from the early '60s, probably during the Vietnam War as suggested in the comment from (answers.com)

  • Since the war lasted so long and so many men were rotating in and out of South Vietnam from so many branches of service; US Army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, US Air Force, US Coast Guard...and probably civilians too (CIA, Contractors, etc.), plus there were so many 2nd, 3rd, and more "tours" in the Vietnam war...it simplified everything all the way around to simply state "in country." Meaning "he's either here or he ain't."
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  • So it is the "focus of activity" that gives it a distinct meaning to simple "in the country"?
    – aaa90210
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 7:33
  • @aaa90210 - yes, it's become a jargon expression especially in military contexts.
    – user66974
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 7:49
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My experience confirms the usage (if not the origin) of the phrase, in the jargon of the Vietnam War era. I too came across the explanation given in the Indigenous People's History book, and came immediately to this site to check it out. But I've always seen it as an adjective, as in the examples given, never as a noun. So with all due respect for bro Raffaniello, I'm very skeptical of the author's claim that "in country" is short for "Indian country". She cites no evidence or source for that idea.

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    Hello, LF. You're right; ELU expects supporting references, linked and attributed, to accompany 'answers', and RR's answer doesn't have any. Neither does yours. Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 14:51
  • Not to put too fine a point on it, EA, but what ELU advises is to "back [statements] up with references or personal experience" (emphasis mine) and I spoke from experience. Links are "encouraged," not expected; attribution is not mentioned. Careful reading would also be a +, but in this case, that would be up to you to provide.
    – L.F.Miller
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 20:43
  • To be fair, RR does give the personal experience of having read the book. Few personal anecdotes are demonstrably non-subjective. Such really belong, as anecdotes, in 'comments' rather than 'answers'. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 10:04
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The OED does have an entry for in-country.

However nearly all the examples relate to the war in Vietnam. This surprises me because I would have considered it a very widely used term in military and diplomatic circles, to refer to events, policies and people etc applicable or actually serving in a given country. It would not surprise me at all to hear the expression used in Britain.

  1. Used attributively: in the country; in a contextually specified country. Cf. in prep. a1953 D. Thomas Prospect of Sea (1955) 9
    Between the incountry fields and the incoming sea.

1963 Times 6 Feb. 6/7 Cornwall..has agreed to give all technical assistance that is needed on payment by the Scillies of travelling and subsistence expenses, and to charge for the use of its educational and welfare institutions at the ‘in-country’ instead of the ‘out-country’ rate.

1966 N.Y. Times 1 May iv. 3 In South Vietnam, in what is called in Saigon the ‘in-country’ war, development efforts have been concentrated upon types of weapons best utilized in jungles and rice paddies.

1969 Daily Tel. 20 Nov. 5/3 2,500 American Marines are to leave South Vietnam..over a five-day period starting from today. This will reduce America's ‘in-country’ military strength to 484,000 troops.

1973 Daily Tel. 13 Mar. 5/2 American in-country troop strength [in Vietnam] stands at 7,170 men.

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Here’s a reference to the use of “Indian Country” in the military. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27563986?seq=1

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  • How does this answer the question about the meaning of "in country"? Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 6:22
  • Does Indian country have the same meaning as in-country? The question is focused on the latter, you need to explain in your answer. Quote the most relevant paragraph or lines.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 6:37
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A travel agency specializing in trips to a foreign country offers this:

REMEMBER While in country, I will NOT be your first contact. If you need anything at all it is always best to go to our In-Country Travel Experience Team. They are available 24 hours a day, have access to your full travel itinerary, and are equipped to help you faster than anyone else. To reach our Travel Experience Team during your stay for anything at all from dinner reservations to a lost passport -

This is neither a military nor a scientific context (and has nothing to do with Indians). One assumes that it means in the destination country, but it is not clear that it does not mean one’s home country.

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In book titled Indiginous People’s History of the Americas the military term in-country is the abbreviated version of indian country. Until I read this book I understood in-country to mean in a combat zone. The term goes way back to early European settlers in America.

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  • Don't they capitalise? Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 14:48
  • It's pretty clear that your definition does not work in context: "I have been indian country for around three months now, and in that time..."
    – user770884
    Commented Jan 15, 2023 at 18:44

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