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Allision

The Oxford English Dictionary, in an entry updated in September 2012, marks this as literary and rare, but a search shows it’s still around, though almost exclusively in the US and mostly in official documents. This example also includes the verb:

The second case involved a docking pilot in a New England port who allided with a railroad bridge and failed to report the incident to the Coast Guard. Sadly, but not all that rare, the pilot was provided with faulty draft information regarding the vessel he was piloting leading to the allision

Marine Link, 2 Apr. 2013.

In US maritime law, an allision occurs when a ship hits a stationary object. Most commonly this is another ship, perhaps at anchor or docked, but it can also refer to a ship hitting a fixed object such as a wharf or a bridge. For you and me, that’s a collision, but US law reserves that word for an impact between two moving ships.

The word is from allidere, from the post-classical Latin of the fourth century AD, to strike against something or to be shipwrecked, whereas collision is from collidere, to strike together, so the distinction was already being observed then to some degree. Both contain the root laedere, to injure, damage or hurt.

Before it took on its specialised sense in the law of the sea, it referred more generally to one thing striking another. It is recorded for the first time in a book by Helkiah Crooke of 1615: “Some [sounds] are made by allision, as when the ayre moved by a vehement winde doth beate against a solide body.”

The legal sense seems to be a creation of the nineteenth century. In The Sailor’s Word-book of 1867, the British admiral William Henry Smyth commented that allision was “Synonymous in marine law with collision, though the jurists of Holland introduce it to mark a distinction between one vessel running against another and two vessels striking each other.”

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 15 May 2010
Last updated: 27 Apr. 2013

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-all1.htm
Last modified: 27 April 2013.