It is reassuring to know that the Paris police Préfecture has been making plans in the event of terrorists attacking several places at once, like in Madrid or London. According to a Libération article, the first step would be to get everyone out of the public transport network:

Si un jour, un attentat se produit quelque part sur le réseau ferré ou métropolitain en région parisienne, «on peut s’attendre à une autre déflagration ailleurs, et on applique donc le principe de précaution : on évacue tous les passagers des trains et des métros, au bas mot 500 000 Franciliens qui empruntent les transports en commun à une heure de forte transhumance le matin ou le soir», rapporte un haut fonctionnaire.

[If one day there is a terror attack anywhere on the rail or underground network in the Paris agglomeration, “we can expect that another explosion will happen somewhere else and therefore apply the precautionary principle: we evacuate all the railway and metro passengers, at the very least 500,000 Ile-de-France residents who use the public transport network during an hour of great transhumance in the morning or in the evening,” says a senior civil servant. ]

There is of course much more to the plan — the article is quite long; but I’m stopping here because of the word I stumbled over.

It’s not évacuer: I’m quite sanguine these days about this usage#[1]. And let’s only note in passing Francilien, the term for a resident of the Ile de France region (of which Paris is the capital); that’s a former bureaucratic neologism which has caught on.

No, the one I’m intrigued about is transhumance, and that’s also the reason I didn’t translate à une heure de forte transhumance le matin ou le soir with the more idiomatic phrase during the morning or evening rush hour.

Transhumance exists in English and French, and spelling and sense are the same. Unlike what the excerpt might suggest, it doesn’t come from transporting human beings, though. Instead, it means the seasonal movement of cattle and other livestock from one pasture (Lat. humus means “earth”) to another, usually between the hight mountains and the lowlands. In German, that’s Almauftrieb in spring and Almabtrieb in autumn.

As I’m one of those 500,000 Ile-de-France residents, I’m slightly taken aback at being referred to in these terms.

[1]: During my school years, I remember being instructed never to use the German equivalent, evakuieren in this way: Since the literal sense of evacuating is emptying, you should only use it for places, buildings, trains and the like, but not for the people (who hopefully avoid being emptied in the process). Nowadays, this attitude is probably too nit-picky.

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