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Evacuate

One traditional definition of evacuate is to empty, and until the late 20th century, evacuate was often used as a polite way of saying empty one’s bowels. So, for example, if you were to say I have to evacuate immediately, someone might direct you to the restroom. But while this obsolescent use of evacuate still entertains people who take an interest in English usage, there is nothing wrong with using evacuate to mean to withdraw from or vacate a place, and these senses have in fact been common for many centuries, so don’t listen to anyone who says evacuate can only properly mean to empty.

Examples


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Residents of a town near the Fukushima nuclear plant venture back to their homes for the first time since they evacuated. [Los Angeles Times]

An Illinois mayor urged some residents on Friday to make plans to evacuate the town. [CNN]

With hundreds of his classmates, he evacuated and ran north along the Hudson River. [City Journal]

Up to 100 homes are expected to be evacuated due to a fire at a garage. [BBC News]

Dormitory residents were evacuating upon firefighters’ arrival. [Davidson News]

Mr Shackleton said the factory staff did everything right in evacuating the building and dampening down the kilns. [Stuff.co.nz]

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Comments

  1. Eugene Onegin says:

    Three of your six examples actually use the traditional definition, to empty the contents of something. In example two, the town is evacuated. In example four, homes are evacuated. In example six, the building is evacuated. People are not evacuated in these examples, places are, which is the traditional definition- to empty the contents of something. There is also nothing provided to back up the claim that the common modern usage of the term, to vacate an area, has been in use for centuries.

    “Dormitory residents were evacuating upon firefighters’ arrival.” That conjures up a very unpleasant mental image.

  2. While I’m not going to disagree with you (as it would certainly make my life easier), I would appreciate some examples of this second sense of the word ‘evacuate’ from centuries ago.

  3. Reasonable Descent says:

    Please, realize that the traditional use of evacuate is not obsolete, just because you say that the traditionally incorrect use of evacuate has come to be.

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