Style Matters #11: Self-evacuation paints a queasy picture


Having quite an interest in breaking and traumatic news reporting, I’m rather fascinated by a term that’s coming into common usage when describing people fleeing an area under threat from some danger.

You’ll hear (or read) “residents have been self-evacuating …” and I understand that what the reporter is trying to say is that these people have been making their own way to safety without the aid of rescuers or others.

Most likely, reporters are simply using terminology that’s taken root among emergency services agencies.

But there is another, more graphic interpretation for this somewhat clumsy term.

If you’ve ever worked or studied in the health field, or know someone who has, you will probably blanch at use of the term – and rightly so.

Because, you see, while evacuation can mean “the action of evacuating a person or a place”, it also means “the action of emptying the bowels or another bodily organ”.

The concept of self-evacuation, then, is more than a bit icky … it’s a drastic measure taken by the over-constipated and probably not a topic for discussion in polite company.

Let’s opt for something equally direct and active – the much shorter “residents fled the area” or “residents moved to safety” would suffice – rather than the rather queasy alternative that has crept into breaking news language.


If you like what you’ve read here, you can see reporting4work’s similar posts at Style Matters

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