Holing Up

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This morning I heard an NPR journalist say in elegant, educated accents that Julian Assange “has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.”

When I looked at the NPR site, I saw that a copy editor had changed “holed up” to “hiding out” in the transcript.

Other news sources don’t seem to see anything inappropriate about using the expression in their own publications.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about 2010 allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.

The Huffington Post
With British police still surrounding the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he is holed up, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange joined an international conference call Wednesday to speak out about his complicated and seemingly intractable diplomatic and legal saga.

The Telegraph
Julian Assange could spend years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in a bid to dodge extradition to Sweden, an expert said today.

The Guardian
Wikileaks founder holed up in Ecuadorian embassy in UK capital says he believed interrogation on rape and molestation claims was to go ahead.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition.

Los Angeles Times
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested at a news conference Monday that he could soon be leaving the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden. 

It seems to me that this use of “holed up” to refer to human beings who are hiding or sheltering somewhere is slang, suitable enough in informal speech or dialogue, but totally out of place in formal writing and reporting.

Here are some possible alternatives, at least for Assange:

…has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been concealing himself in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been secreting himself in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been sheltering in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been taking cover in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

…has been lying low in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.

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8 thoughts on “Holing Up”

  1. The various alternatives suggested don’t convey the two aspects of “holed up” – (a) on the run and (b) hiding.

    I don’t like jargon or slang either but, in this case, I think I can tolerate “holed up”.

  2. Is it slang or idiom? I think it’s the latter, and the NPR editor (or perhaps the reporter) who changed it may have decided to use plain language instead — less colorful and, as Bendan hints, less nuanced. I personally can tolerate “holed up,” but I also can understand changing it.

  3. I agree with Brendon. It was probably chosen thoughtfully for its connotation, and it seems a reasonable use of colloquialism or slang in journalism.

  4. I agree with Danny, Brendan, and ApK: 1) It’s an idiom, and 2) It’s needed to convey the idea that he is hiding from (or is being pursued by) the law that none of the other examples specifically imply. Remember Saddam Hussein’s “hidey hole” where the American liberating forces finally dislodged him?

    I’m only speculating, but given NPR’s editorial bent, maybe an editor felt that the term was too strong in implying that laws, in fact, had been broken where some might see the charges as a tool to capture and bring him in on more serious, unrelated offenses that some see as “whistle-blowing.” Therefore, the expression was changed to something more neutral.

  5. @john, if you define ‘slang’ as requiring the words or phrases themselves to be non-standard, then I agree, but it is most certainly idiomatic, unless the embassy is located in a hollowed void (a hole) located over the speaker (up).

    The squirrels in my tree are actually holed up,. They are in a hole. Up a tree.

    Using those words to mean “hiding” or “sheltering” is most certainly an idiom.

  6. I agree with ApK. It has to be one or the other because it is definitely not standard English. There is no standard definition for an adjective “holed” meaning hidden, hiding, asylum-seeking, or avoiding reality under cover of foreign sovereignty. It might seem picking of nits, but this is about careful writing. Using “holed up” in the venue at hand seems sloppy at best, though the only thing that really seems to “convey the idea” is to explicitly say, “Julian Assange “has been claiming asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years.”

  7. We know that his being “holed up” is a figure of speech. Almost all native speakers of English would understand the meaning. The expression might be unacceptable in a formal document or even in more formal speech, but used orally in mass media, it works very well—at least it does for me. Back into my hole now.

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