Deplane (No Tattoo Jokes)

So this guy, Erik, who I only know from the internet (and who is thus somewhat less likely to actually exist than the rest of you) had a harrowing landing experience on a recent flight. It all ended well, but he happened to mention in the telling that he doesn’t like the word “deplane”. What follows started as a comment on his blog, but wound up a little long for a comment.

Image by Flickr user carolitajohnson

So what’s the problem with “deplane”? I think the word dates back to WWII (and “en/emplane” is even older), so I don’t think we can call it a neologism. Even if it were a neologism, and thus still in need of some hazing, I’d point out in defense of “deplane” that it is not at all an ugly word. At least, not on the scale of “incentivize”.

Maybe “deplane” is unnecessary as being entirely subsumed in “disembark”. But would’t this only be a problem if you felt that English had too many words?

Aesthetics and independent value aside, assuming one of them will win out as the word for “to exit a plane”, I’d root for deplane. It is somewhat (but probably not significantly) clearer because its etymology lies closer to its current usage. If you’re trying to figure out what “disembark” or “embark” means, etymology is of little value to you unless you happen to be familiar with “barque” as a fancy-pants way to say “boat”, and that’s all before you make the cognitive leap from barge to plane. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it — I doubt etymology matters to most people most of the time. But suppose you’re sitting in seat 13F as the plane door swings open. “You may deplane” seems a lot less likely to cause confusion than “you may disembark”.

(Unless, of course, you happen to believe at the time that you are on a barque, in which case some confusion is headed your way regardless of the steward’s word choice.)

Erik is not alone in his distaste. Some searching reveals others who cringe at “deplane”. But none of the links I clicked provided much explanation as to what might be wrong with the word other than grouchy grumblings about how “disembark” is a perfectly good word. In other words, I didn’t learn what the problem with “deplane” might be. (I am assuming that “eschew a word with an older synonym” is a philosophically indefensible position, but I’m open to persuasion on the point.)

Maybe it’s time to let go of “disembark” meaning “exit the plane”, or at least hand it over to the bad poets (who may need an extra syllable from time to time).

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