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In this BBC report, it says:

Four-time defending overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher narrowly avoided being hit by a drone during an Alpine slalom race in Italy on Tuesday.

A similar phrase is used on a page containing a video of the incident. It seems to me that the skier could have been completely oblivious to the fact.

Is the choice of words here ("narrowly avoided") a bad one, given the fact that it seems it was more by luck than any avoiding maneauveres, even involuntary ones?

  • I can see that, but doesn't the fact it's coupled with "avoided" imply that there was an act by the skier to change course etc to prevent the collision? – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:23
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    Narrowly avoided can be used whether by luck or skill, in a similar way "close call" is used. Sure, the use of the word "avoid" is more common when used actively (as in the active prevention of something by someone), but avoid can simply mean "keep away from", which is exactly what happened... just not consciously by what's-his-name. – Julia Dec 23 '15 at 13:25
  • "conscious act" was a bad phrase and didn't convey what I wanted to ask, I've edited the question slightly. – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 14:04
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    For someone (my case) that had seen the images before reading the quote, the sentence seemed initially correct. However, I think that the formulation is more than confusing: a person that hadn't already seen the video will imagine that the skier did something to prevent the accident. I think that the word "escaped" was more approriate. – Graffito Dec 23 '15 at 14:05
  • The use above is consistent with how many would interpret/use the phrase. Especially since no other familiar idiom would so succinctly express the situation. English is not algebra. – Hot Licks Dec 23 '15 at 15:47
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To avoid is:

to keep out of the way of

That doesn't necessarily require an action. In fact it almost implies a lack of action - the dictionary talks about keeping out of the way of something, but not getting out of the way of something. This contradicts my own personal usage of "to avoid", so I'm not sure a dictionary is actually the best reference for this. I am hence going to rely on my own personal usage:

  • I would be happy to use avoid to mean "getting out of the way of something". This would definitely constitute an action. e.g.:

I avoided being hit by the car by jumping inside a shop doorway.

  • I would be happy to use avoid to mean "keeping out of the way of something" provided that the "keeping" is deliberate. e.g.:

I normally see Angela on my walk home. Yesterday I didn't want to see anyone I know as I was having a bad hair day, so I avoided Angela by walking a different route.

  • I would not be happy to use avoid to mean "keeping out of the way of something accidentally". e.g.:

Incorrect: I normally see Angela on my walk home. Yesterday I didn't see her, maybe I avoided her because she took a different route or walked at a different time.

Correct: I normally see Angela on my walk home. Yesterday I didn't see her, maybe I missed her because she took a different route or walked at a different time.


"Narrowly" is an adverb modifying avoid, it makes no difference to whether to avoid requires a conscious act or not.


In summary: if the skier was oblivious, and made no manoeuvres which took him out of the path of the drone, I do not believe he narrowly avoided being hit by the drone, but I do believe he narrowly missed being hit by the drone.

  • In your example, you slighltly dodged the OP demand by converting the sentence from passive (being hit) to active form (hit). Can we say that "the pedestrian avoided being hit" ? – Graffito Dec 23 '15 at 13:53
  • @Graffito Which would bring it back to my questioning of the definition of "avoid" - what did the pedestrian do to avoid being hit? – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:55
  • Hmm that edit makes sense, but now I'm wondering if my choice of "concious" was a good one for the question in my head. How frowned upon is it for editing questions so they may invalidate answers on EL&U? – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:57
  • @AndyT That's the issue right there and gets to the heart of the question I actually had. "concious act" was a bad choice of phrase. Something along the lines of "actively doing something" is more along the lines of what I was thinking. – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:59
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    @JamesThorpe - Substantially revised answer following your clarification/revision. Unfortunately it's based on my own understanding and not backed up by research, which I always dislike, but hey. – AndyT Dec 23 '15 at 14:22
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No, narrowly avoiding doesn't have to be a conscious act.

From the Free Dictionary:

narrowly: just, barely, only just, scarcely, by the narrowest of margins, by the skin of your teeth, by a whisker or hair's-breadth

Nothing about intent or conscious decisions.

Similarly, "avoid" doesn't always imply a conscious act: the phrase "unintentionally avoid" is well known to Google.

  • But what about "avoid"? – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:25
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    I would not use such a big no. – user140086 Dec 23 '15 at 13:26
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    @JamesThorpe Rofl: I searched for an example to add to my answer of "narrowly avoid" being used when there's no intent to avoid, and only realised afterwards that it was exactly the one you'd used in the question! :-P – Rand al'Thor Dec 23 '15 at 13:28
  • @Rathony With the way I've phrased the question in my title vs in the question (almost opposites of each other - my bad...), the big No is also ambigious as to which one it's answering too. – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:28
  • @JamesThorpe I was answering the title (hardly read the body of the question, as you can tell!) – Rand al'Thor Dec 23 '15 at 13:29
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While "avoid" has more than one definition, one that means to passively keep one's self away from something, ("one should avoid overeating during the holidays") the other, to take action to keep something from happening (like "avoiding the chatty neighbor in the grocery story"), the expression "narrowly avoid" implies the active form of "avoid", in my experience and usage of the expression.

In my opinion, the skier did not narrowly avoid being hit by the drone, on the contrary, the drone, through sheer coincidence, narrowly avoided hitting the skier.

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"Narrowly avoided" doesn't indicate anything about whether the skier intentionally moved away from the point onto which the drone was falling or it was just pure luck.

It just means that there was no collision between the skier and the drone. Probably he was lucky, but not absolutely.

Narrowly as an adverb means:

Only just; by only a small margin.

If you look at the below example, you can never know whether she intentionally moved away with quick reflexes or he was too drunk to swipe her in the head.

He made to swipe her with the bottle, narrowly missing her face and catching her in the shoulder instead.

The verb avoid doesn't indicate anything, either. For example:

He narrowly avoided being drowned.

You can never know if he was a good swimmer or somebody else rescued him.

It will entirely depend on the context.

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

  • I almost left out the "narrowly" bit from the question. My issue with it is my understanding of what "avoid" means. Had the report been written as "had a lucky escape when a drone narrowly missed" I wouldn't be here! – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:41
  • @JamesThorpe The verb avoid can't tell anything, either. I have edited my post. – user140086 Dec 23 '15 at 13:46
  • Your avoid example isn't unambiguous to me either - If he was a good swimmer, he avoided it. If he was rescued, it should read something like "he escaped drowning". – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 13:48
  • @JamesThorpe He escaped form Syria to seek freedom. Is it intentional or pure luck? He escaped drowning doesn't necessarily mean he was rescued. – user140086 Dec 23 '15 at 13:50
  • It didn't come up in your answer, but "conscious act" was a bad phrase and didn't convey what I wanted to ask, I've edited the question slightly - see a small discussion under @AndyT's answer. – James Thorpe Dec 23 '15 at 14:05

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