Words at Play

Was it a 'Raid' or a 'Search'?

On August 8, 2022, the F.B.I. entered the residence of former president Donald Trump, and when they left they took some things with them. This event has been referred to both as a search and as a raid. Is there a simple answer about which word best describes this event? Not really.

Search has a number of different meanings; the one that is most relevant in this case is perhaps “a critical scrutiny or survey (as of a ship's cargo or baggage).” While this sense is often used to refer to an act of boarding and inspecting a vessel on the high seas, it may be applicable to land-bound inquiries as well. Search was found used in the headlines of a wide variety of publications last week.

U.S. News: Silence on Mar-a-Lago Search Spurs Questions
Wall Street Journal, 11 Aug. 2022

FBI’s search of Trump’s Florida estate: Why now?
AP News, 9 Aug. 2022

FBI executes search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, former president says
Chicago Tribune, 8 Aug. 2022

Raid likewise has a number of possible meanings, with “a sudden invasion by officers of the law” being the one that is most apt for the recent situation. This word was also found used in the headlines of a wide variety of publications last week.

Christopher Wray condemns threats against FBI after Trump Mar-a-Lago raid
New York Post, 11 Aug. 2022

Authorities monitoring online threats following FBI's Mar-a-Lago raid
ABC News, 11 Aug. 2022

The Lawless G.O.P. Response to the Raid at Mar-a-Lago
The New York Times, 9 Aug. 2022

We are not suggesting that search and raid are synonymous, either in general or in this specific case. There are a number of people who hold that there is a clear distinction between these words in terms of how they are used when referring to an action by law enforcement: a search is what happens when officers are acting on a search warrant, and a raid is a sudden forceful incursion made when surprise is necessary to apprehend someone.

But while we are not suggesting that these words are synonymous, we are pointing out that there is some degree of semantic terrain that is covered by both. The sense of raid mentioned earlier (“a sudden invasion by officers of the law”) is fairly broad, because this is the sense in which many people use the word. Raid is obviously a more dramatic word in this context than is search, and so one’s feelings about the F.B.I. taking things from Trump’s residence may well influence which word one chooses to use to describe it.

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