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A less than romantic getaway

A news release from the Media Relations Office of the Anne Arundel County Police Department comes bearing this headline:


Your initial reaction may be to wonder whether Kim Kardashian has already got herself entangled in some fresh escapade, but the text, when it gets around to saying what happened explains that “an adult male inmate …walked away from a work detail.”

Now perhaps you are even more puzzled, since elope means to run away with a lover to get married. Merriam-Webster gives the meaning "to slip away," and the not particularly reliable Urban Dictionary gives an alternative meaning of escape for elope, with an example from mental hospitals. And a Canadian police site confusingly uses elopee merely to mean “missing person.” Usage appears not to have gelled.

I assume that the police like elopee as a milder version of escapee, a prisoner wandering off from a work detail being less alarming to the public than a hopped-up thug scaling the wall at the Big House as sirens wail and searchlights play over the Yard. And I have no authority to deny them their linguistic innovations.

But I do hope that police reporters, who are susceptible to cop jargon, will keep a safe distance from this one.



Posted by John McIntyre at 5:54 PM | | Comments (6)


Here's a possible alternate 'header' to the Anne Arundel County Police Dept.'s recent news release: Where's A.W.O.L......Doh? (Get it? Like "Where's Waldo?")

Okay. I admit that was pretty lame, almost bordering on the Homer Simpson-esque. But y'all have to concede it kinda got your attention, right? Maybe NOT.

Hmm...... I guess technically "A.W.O.L." (Absent WithOut Leave) is solely reserved for alleged, or suspected missing, or escaped military personnel, not prison road-crew workers who have mysteriously wandered off from the work site.

For me, the word "elopee" immediately conjures up an individual who has impetuously run off w/ his, or her sweetheart to wed in secret, usually contrary to the expressed wishes of immediate family and close friends......... plain and simple.

In the police report in question, I think it was unwise to use the word 'elopee' in the headline as it's intrinsically misleading, although perhaps in the context of 'the body' of the press release it may have been acceptable, yet in my view, still a stretch.

As far as those Canadian cops defining 'elopee" as a "missing person" on their website......... as a dyed-in-the-wool Canuck, I'd have to say they're up to their eyeballs in beaver doo-doo on that one. Pardon my French, s'il vous plaît.


John, elopement is a word used (for many years) in the field of assisted living/dementia to identify a walk-away from a safe environment. It is meant to discourage the idea of confinement. Used out of sensitivity and compassion.

Years ago, while visiting in a nursing home, I shamelessly eavesdropped on several staff members fuming about "an elopement". (A conversation that should have taken place behind closed doors) I was fully in the "c'mon, let a couple of old people get married if they want to," camp when I (finally) realized that "elopement" was the coverup word for "wandered off".

If 'escapee' is considered too alarming, then 'absconder' would be my choice. Or might that be considered too hard a word?


At first blush I balked at your suggested "absconder" alternative to "escapee" (or "elopee"), but on checking out the definition of "abscond" in my trusty Webster's NewWorld Dictionary, I discovered it's defined as "to go away hastily and secretly; run away and hide, esp. in order to escape the law".

Viola!!! Seems to cover the aforementioned county police report scenario quite well, no?

However, when I envision the quintessential "absconder", someone like disgraced Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff immediately comes to mind. In the realm of typical white-collar criminality, secretly stealing the invested funds of trusting investors would fall within my understanding of the term "absconder"; kind of a different twist on the previously mentioned Webster's definition of "abscond", i.e., getting out of Dodge, pronto.

Me thinks your alternative police press release headline, 'ATTEMPT TO LOCATE ABSCONDER', would be just as open to misinterpretation, and as misleading for the reader as the original "ELOPEE".

Many might interpret your version as that the cops are looking for an embezzling perp, not a runaway work-crew felon.

I'm afeared we're almost getting into a Bill Clinton-esque parsing exercise, here.
"That would depend on what the definition of "is"..... is, right?

Oh brother!


“Elopee” is the correct term when used to describe mentally ill or otherwise mentally incapacitated or emotionally disturbed persons who have wandered away from a treatment facility or have purposely left a treatment facility where they are most likely not being held against their will but have left without the knowledge of caregivers. An “elopee” may be a danger to themselves, or may get into danger, and therefore police are notified, but not to arrest them for a crime. Hence they’re not trying to “escape the law” and absconder would not be appropriate. But a dangerous mental patient who breaks out of secure facility should not be called an elopee - that's an escapee. A prisoner who purposely walked away from a work detail or who failed to return from one is an escapee and police should not use elopee to describe such an individual. My agency would use “escapee.” Alex is right, absconder could fit but it would be confusing and misleading due to how the word is generally used as a fancy term for thievery.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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