Monday, September 2, 2013

Be On the Look-Out!

Today is Labor Day in the United States and Labour Day in Canada.  I’ve blogged previously about why American words like labor become labour, ending in –our, in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other British Commonwealth countries. The reason is complicated, and William the Conqueror and Noah Webster are both to blame.  Instead of writing again about Labor Day, I’ll just refer you to my previous blog at:

Today, instead, let's consider BOLO—a term I heard on a television newscast referring to a search for a fugitive in one of the heinous crimes with lurid accounts of which ghoulish TV anchors like to regale us.  Now in my youth, I was a great fan of “Dick Tracy,” “Dragnet,” “Mister District Attorney,” “Gangbusters,” and a host of other police shows on radio, so I know that when they’re looking for a crook on the lam, police send out an APB—“All Points Bulletin,” a message intended for everyone, everywhere.   BOLO was new to me.

BOLO, it turns out, is more commonly used among police operatives, and it stands for “Be On the Look-Out,” presumably “for” someone who will then be described.  No one seems to know when police began using the acronym. 

APB, according to the On-Line Etymological Dictionary, dates to 1957 and probably originated in detective fiction, rather than actual police usage.  Some agencies also use ATL–“Attempt To Locate.”

Do not attempt to locate the Bard of Buffalo Bayou.  You might find him, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.

            There’s no need to be on the lookout
            For the thief who came to our cookout.
                        He got drunk on our beer,
                        And now he’s still here—
            Won’t someone please throw this crook out!


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