Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time to Disembark

Here's another one that makes me throw up in my mouth a little: "deplane". These days, airplane passengers are generally given instructions upon landing about "deplaning", as in "please remember to take all your belongings with you when you deplane". (This one wasn't around as recently as the mid-'80s, to the best of my recollection.)

Why did we need "deplane" when we already had lots of other ways to express this idea, like "disembark", for instance? You might think a new word had been chosen because it's easier for non-English speakers to understand. But "disembark" has cognates in French (désembarquer), as well as Spanish and Italian, whereas "deplane" does not.

By the way, I'm guessing that the "bark" part of "disembark" might be related to "bark/barque", meaning a boat, (It's related to the French "barque" and the Spanish/Portuguese/Italian "barca"). So "disembarking" is "getting off the boat". (The airship, if you'd like to put it in terms Mr. Burns might understand.)

On the other hand, the "deplane" formation makes me think of words like "delouse", "debug", "detoxify" and, for that matter, "de-ice". In all these words, the "de-" prefix has the sense of getting rid of something – often a whole lot of unwanted somethings. "Deplaning" conjures up the image of combing a bunch of pesky airplanes out of wet, tangly hair. Or it could be one of those unpleasant military euphemisms like "collateral damage", as in "Sir, we can now report that the area has been fully deplaned".

I find that flying is stressful enough; I'd like to be allowed to disembark peacefully. At the worst, I suppose I wouldn't mind "debarking". Or, in the interests of supreme simplicity, couldn't the powers that be just tell us to be careful to take everything with us when we "leave the plane"?


Deborah Rey said...

Deplaning? What a word. I don't even remember it from the mid- and late eighties. I always 'disembarked' and still would, if any airline would accept O² dependent passengers. I'd sit and stare at them, when they told me to 'deplane'. Oy vay!
Happy to have found your blog (for all of it, not just the 'deplaning). Most interesting and great fun for language freaks (and writers and editors).

Deborah Rey said...

Wee nitpick: how do you:
'throw up in my mouth'?