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The Fallout From Misusing “Fallout”

For years I have heard the term “fallout shelter” to describe the room in which we escape to in the event of nuclear armageddon. It’s even a song lyric (“The birds flew off with a fallout shelter” — Don McLean, “American Pie”).

Yet fallout is not an adjective.

The word is a noun referring to the radioactive particles that settle on us and the land following a nuclear explosion, but it also could refer to debris settling from any non-nuclear explosion or fire. It also is a noun that means “by-product” or “effect.”

I also found a dictionary that defines fallout as a verb meaning “to quarrel or disagree,” “to happen or occur” and “to leave a parade or disciplinary formation,” although I always thought that was fall out.

When we use it as an adjective to refer to a type of shelter, we’re misusing the word. I can’t find any dictionary that defines fallout as anything other than a noun. A British dictionary came closest, listing it as the noun “fallout shelter.”

We should instead say “bomb shelter” or just “shelter.” In fact, when I typed “fallout as an adjective” into my search engine, the engine kicked out “bomb as an adjective” as well.

Somebody gimme shelter from the fallout of misusing fallout.

Until next time! Use the right words!


September 18, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , ,

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