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Words, Oct. 14

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"Hundreds were evacuated in the aftermath of the disaster Monday, when a reservoir burst its banks at an alumina plant in Ajka ... "

Red Sludge writes: "Here we go again! When are you newspaper people going to learn that evacuate has to do with bowel movements, not moving people from one area to another?"

Sorry, Red, but your position was largely discredited at least 50 years ago, and has lost credibility since. This is what Bergen Evans, a smart cookie, wrote in his Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, published in 1957:

"Purists have been much agitated at the evacuation of wounded soldiers and of civilians from cities during the past two wars, pointing out that the term was properly a medical one, meaning a discharge or ejection through the excretory passages, especially from the bowels. But their exasperation was in part unfounded and in part (one fears) merely a pretext for displaying erudition. The term has been a military term for withdrawing from a town or fortress for almost two hundred and fifty years and during the first world war passed into current use through its employment in the newspapers. Strictly it was the place that was evacuated of the troops. But the transference of the word to the troops or the civilians themselves did no greater violence to the language than did hundreds of idioms. It is now standard in this sense ..." So fully accepted that more recent books on usage don't even address evacuate.

"The most important takeaway from this report for vending and coffee service operators is the continued rising popularity of coffee among young people."

William Lindsey writes: "I don't find any dictionaries noting that the noun 'takeaway' is equivalent to 'a point to be taken away' from a report or studies." Nor do I. But I've seen it in print a few times recently, so it may make the dictionaries eventually, much as the expression stake out spun off the noun stakeout, very popular on cops-and-robbers TV shows.

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