Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

In one of the most heartening news stories not just this week but for many weeks and months, twelve young footballers and their coach were rescued from deep inside a flooded cave system in Thailand by a superb and sustained local and international effort. With torrential rain threatening to block access and suggestions that the twelve teenagers and one adult could be trapped for months, the rescue initially seemed an almost hopeless task. In the event it  was turned by skill and daring into a triumph, marred only by the tragic death of a Thai navy SEAL early in the operation.

Rescue entered English in the 1330s as a verb, from the French ‘rescouer’ meaning ‘to set free or liberate’, with the noun following some 70 years later. As well as meaning to save someone from a dangerous or unpleasant situation, rescue also means ‘to prevent from failing’, so you can rescue a bank, a business, even an entire economy. You can also use rescue to refer to the recovery of something such as a sauce that is about to curdle, or an object that is about to be damaged.

As a noun, rescue often combines with other nouns to form compounds such as mountain rescue or air-sea rescue that refer to the organizations that carry out the rescues as well as the act itself. Someone who carries out a rescue is a rescuer.

A more recent use of rescue is its attributive use to refer to an animal that needs a new home, such as a rescue dog or a rescue cat, or the place where they are cared for, a rescue shelter or home. There are many more specialized terms with rescue as the first element, including rescue excavation or rescue archaeology, the practice of retrieving archaeological evidence from sites that are about to be built over or otherwise damaged or destroyed.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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