Boston Marathon Bombing: Two Dozen Vocabulary and Cultural Concepts

As the world follows the developing news of the police hunt for the men who triggered two bombs at Monday’s Boston Marathon, a number of expressions have been used in the media.  This list is meant to help you understand the breaking reports.

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1. IED (improvised explosive device) = home-made bomb used in other ways than traditional military applications

pressure cooker (source:

pressure cooker (source:

2. shrapnel = pieces of metal which fly out from an explosion

3. pressure cooker = a metal pot that seals completely shut and cooks food by pressure heat

4. amputation = cutting off a body part (usually an arm or leg)

5. tourniquet = a cloth or other material used to temporarily stop blood flow of an injury and prevent blood loss

6. a suspect = someone the police believe took part in a crime

7. a person of interest = a person the police want to talk to about a crime (not necessarily a suspect)

8. police hotline = a direct, toll-free number to call to give information to the police (in this case, the number was 800-CALL-FBI)

9. Chechnya = southwestern region of Russia populated by 1 million ethnic Chechen people who are culturally Muslim and seeking to separate from Russia

10. Kyrgyzstan = former state of the USSR in central Asia, west of China and south of Kazakhstan (where the two suspects were born)

11. radicalized = made radical; influenced to have extreme political or religious beliefs

Boston, Massachusetts (source: Wikipedia)

Boston, Massachusetts (source: Wikipedia)

12. sleeper cell = a non-active unit of  a secret organization, waiting to be called into action by remote leadership

13. lone wolves = people acting on their own, without connection to a wider organization

14. SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team = law enforcement unit using light military-style weapons and specialized tactics

15. K-9 unit = a police unit that uses dogs for their attack skills and their smelling skills.  The name “canine” (the scientific Latin word for “dog”) is pronounced K-9.

16. a booby trap = bomb which is wired to explode when someone enters the space

17. a trip wire = a wire which causes a bomb to explode when it is (unknowingly) pulled

18. a man-hunt = when police are actively searching for someone

Boston skyline (source: Wikipedia)

Boston skyline (source: Wikipedia)

19. a car-jacking = taking over a vehicle by force (sometimes taking the driver along)

20. to bail out = to leave suddenly, to abandon

21. a shoot-out = a gun fight

22. on lock-down = a situation where police restrict movement of citizens for their own safety

23. to shelter in place = to stay where you are, to not go out because of safety concerns

24. to evacuate = to remove people from a dangerous area

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.