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According to Merriam-Webster and other places, "excretion" is defined as waste products that are eliminated from the body (urine, sweat, CO2).

Vomit is also leaving the body, but like bleeding, the process may not be voluntary/intentional and the "excreted" product isn't actually waste.

Should vomit count as excretion, or is there a better word describing "things that leave the body, intended or not"?

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As to why I'm asking this question: There is a discussion on Travel-SE on how to tag e.g. the vomit question – Jonas Feb 7 '13 at 21:07
You could easily just tag it as bodily-functions, and move along, nothing to see here. – David M Mar 4 '14 at 17:00
up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you read on in the page you link to, under the medical definitions, you would have found:

[2. b.] a waste product (as urine, feces, or vomit) eliminated from an animal body : excrement—not used technically.

Now, the definition above gives a good definition of the technical use:

[2. a.] something eliminated by the process of excretion that is composed chiefly of urine or sweat in mammals including humans and of comparable materials in other animals, characteristically includes products of protein degradation (as urea or uric acid), usually differs from ordinary bodily secretions by lacking any further utility to the organism that produces it, and is distinguished from waste materials (as feces) that have merely passed into or through the alimentary canal without being incorporated into the body proper

So, in a technical sense, vomit is not an excretion. In a more general sense used more informally in medicine (by which I suspect it may relate to the fact that cleaning it up is part of the more informal side of medicine) vomit is an excretion.

In general though, excretion (and more often excrement) is commonly used of faeces, often as a euphemism, while those who studied biology at a secondary-education level might well know the technical sense too. Neither understanding matches vomit. So while you can point to a dictionary and argue you're within the letter of a definition, it's not a good choice of word. (By all means send readers to a dictionary when the word you settle on is clearly the best choice, but that's not the case here).

Perhaps "bodily functions" would be a better choice for tag; it covers the same territory, and is less likely to meet objections around definitions.

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Thank you very much for the thorough discussion of excretion. As to the need of a tag, well, let me just link to the most-upvoted question on Travel SE – Jonas Feb 8 '13 at 1:59
I do see your point. Perhaps "bodily functions" would suit the need, without being as open to objections about the definition. – Jon Hanna Feb 8 '13 at 2:03
Would you mind editing the suggestion for "bodily functions" into your answer? – Jonas Feb 10 '13 at 13:21
Excellent answer. In the medical sense we consider it an excretion when taking into account a patient's outputs. For example, a patient in whom you are trying to balance their fluid input to their fluid output. Otherwise, we would use the non-medical definition as well. – David M Mar 4 '14 at 13:41
@Susan - I agree with you. I was only attempting to explain it in terms of the above medical dictionary definition. My point was that no one really considers it to be an actual excretion. – David M Mar 4 '14 at 16:56

I think discharge is probably a better generic word for it, since (as you point out) excretion has specific biological meanings.

dictionary.com says:

discharge (noun)

(25.) something sent forth or emitted.

free dictionary's medical section also has this to say:

  1. a setting free, or liberation.

  2. matter or force set free.

  3. an excretion or substance evacuated.

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I would expect secretion to fit this definition of the noun discharge, too. Is there a medical term for something that isn't an excretion or a secretion, but is a discharge? I would think an authority on medicine or biology would be better suited to answer. – Canis Lupus Feb 7 '13 at 21:57
expulsion, possibly? – Mark Mayo Feb 7 '13 at 22:22
Discharge may be your best answer. Ignoring your attention to vomit for a moment, your question is "Should vomit count as excretion, or is there a better word describing 'things that leave the body, intended or not'?" Once you consider it being 'intended or not', I think discharge covers it pretty well. Vomit, per se, involves the expulsion of secretions and other matter that is not fully metabolized. Therefore, it isn't yet a secretion or excretion, per the definitions provided (sup. and inf.). If the focus is on vomit, then expulsion appears frequently in physiology texts. – Canis Lupus Feb 8 '13 at 2:40
@Jim discharge is usually used to describe something like purulence leaking from a site. Expulsion fits vomiting far better. I agree. – David M Mar 4 '14 at 13:46

Excretion has the sense of an externalization of something on a regular basis, such as when the organism is functioning routinely.

Discharge seems to suggest the organism excluding something on an extraordinary basis, that is, when the organism is functioning on an urgent basis. It is used more often when describing the body in stress (infection, nausea).

Vomit seems to better fit discharge than excretion.

I do not think "intention" is a criteria that can be used to distinguish between vomit and urine. The body "intends" to eliminate both of them and the conscious mind may or may not have voluntary control over these processes.

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yes on my own understanding vomiting is a waste product, because by the process of vomiting it is a means to excrete because metabolic substances are removed.

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How are metabolic substances waste? – Matt E. Эллен Mar 4 '14 at 13:00
I think you mean to say, byproducts of metabolism. Not metabolic substances. And, vomitus is rarely metabolized, it is the expulsion of stomach contents with other chemical compounds which may be the products of metabolism, but represent a small fraction of the whole. – David M Mar 4 '14 at 13:43

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