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Q&A: Incursion

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Written by Liz Potter

A reader wrote to Macmillan Dictionary to say:

My children’s school is using the word ‘incursion’ … to describe visits to the school by external parties, whether that be to put on a science demonstration, teach the children about planets or whatever. … Is this an accepted use of the word?

(I have abbreviated her email, which gave a lot more context). At first sight, as Peppi points out, this seems very odd. As she observes, incursions are usually hostile, so why is the word being used to refer to peaceful educational visits?



The clue is in another part of her email:

We are all familiar with schools taking their pupils on excursions … As there is a cost impost, we, the parents, are required to give permission for both excursions and ‘incursions’.

As ever, the corpus is our friend here. Although I had never seen the word used in this way, a corpus search quickly turned up lines such as:

“Lexodius Dadd is coming into school next week for two incursions.”
“The organization … works to provide … school incursions and excursions and field trips.”
“The company has grown to become a major supplier of drama incursions to pre and primary schools.”

The fact that the majority of the citations I found come from Australian sources suggests that this term has been coined there in educational discourse to refer to extra-curricular activities that take place on school premises, in direct imitation of excursion. I’d be interested to know if anyone has seen it used elsewhere.

Thanks to Peppi the Open Dictionary has an interesting new entry. We will have to wait and see if it catches on more widely.

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Liz Potter

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