Avert eyes, Divert attention

By Maeve Maddox

A dog trainer gives the following advice:

If you pass a barking dog or other distraction, keep moving forward. If your dog averts its attention to the distraction, give a tug on the lead to avert the attention back to the walk at hand.

The uses of the word avert in this passage strike me as odd because, although avert has the sense of “turning,” avert suggests a turning away from something, not towards it.

avert: 1 : to turn away or aside (one’s face, eyes, thoughts) especially in order to escape something dangerous, unpleasant, or disconcerting –Merriam-Webster

The dog trainer may have been reaching for the word divert:

divert: 1. trans. To turn aside (a thing, as a stream, etc.) from its (proper) direction or course; to deflect (the course of something); to turn from one destination or object to another. –OED

The word avert suggests a turning away in the sense of moving one’s body:
She averted her face from the stranger.

or preventing something bad from happening:
With courage and skill the pilot averted a fatal crash.

Traffic is diverted. Disaster is averted.

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1 Response to “Avert eyes, Divert attention”

  • Brad K.

    Return, or restore, would work in the dog trainer’s instruction instead of avert.

    Using divert suffers the same context ambiguity – divert implies that the dog should have been attending to the passerby, and returning to the walk at hand is the diversion from the proper focus of attention. This might indeed be the intended meaning – that the dog should pay attention, briefly, to passersby, then on command accept and disregard the momentary change in focus of attention.

    Avert, though, fails whatever the trainer intended to say.

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