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Recently I wrote an article titled "I Went Missing" which was an exploratory on how the expression entered the American lexicon, and how it diminishes the effect of the verb "went." For instance, to say "I went fishing," or "I went bowling," conjures a visual, but what comes to mind with "I went missing?" What word picture do we get from that? Where or what is "missing"? To say someone "went missing" suggests that the person deliberately disappeared devoid of foul play or some mysterious circumstance. I believe the term's usage in today's media is what can best be described as an empty visual.
Similarly, when I hear the commonly used expression "escaped with their lives," what comes to my mind is: As opposed to what? Escaping without their lives!? Did they escape with their lives in a basket or a bucket? To escape is by one's own volition. It is the effort of an individual to remove him or herself from some form of confinement or restraint. So how can one escape without his/her life - without some self-propelling power?
On the other hand, to be rescued is to be delivered from some helpless state by another person or source. We hear stories of firemen rescuing people from a burning building, lifeguards rescuing people from a sinking boat, and other life-threatening rescue operations. The victims were helpless and could not save themselves. Can you picture that? Now, for a visual, try imagining a person who escaped without his life. What does that look like? To be freed from confinement requires a force from within or a force from without. If by the force from within it's called an escape--if from without it's called a rescue. Either to escape or to be rescued means life has been preserved.
To provide a means for egress like a fire escape or an emergency exit is a two-way plan which can be used either for victims to escape on their own, or to be rescued by others. From a spiritual perspective some ministers of the Gospel could probably extract a sermon from this concept, but that's for another story. Psycho-analysts apply the term escapist to those who shirk unpleasant realities by resorting to a state of fantasy. That too is for another story.
What I'm talking about is the actual real-time physical act of escaping from harm's way. Some of you may remember the TV series "The Fugitive" which starred David Janssen, and the movie version years later with Harrison Ford. The story is action packed! Talk about some close calls, but each time the character was able to out fox his pursuers and escape. He was running for his life, and that's a suspenseful word picture. Conversely, if he were not running for his life, that would conjure yet another visual. So, to say one escaped with his life is redundant and to ponder the opposite is as empty a visual as "went missing"--whatever that means.