It was a tranquil evening at the Free Press when editors Claire and Ben burst into the newsroom carrying freshly printed maps. The maps depicted the historical topography, or physical features, of the Mississippi river. When describing the changes of the river over time, Ben used the word “avulsion.” I wanted to contribute more to the conversation than just nodding my head, so I looked up this word's definition.
It turns out, avulsion is a noun that means “forcible separation or detachment”. It can be used in both medical and legal contexts. In medicine, it often refers to the tearing away of a body part accidentally (hopefully not!) or surgically. In the legal context, avulsion means the sudden separation of land from one property and its attachment to another, especially when caused by flooding or a change in a river's course.
Ben used the word to describe how the Mississippi river had dramatically changed its course overtime. The map, originally made in the 1940’s, shows these changes. Although the Mississippi has experienced avulsion throughout the years, the ground where the river once ran is still rich with nutrients and, therefore, is perfect for agricultural practices.
So, whether you are studying the topography of bodies of water or explaining to your mother how your arm got cut-off, you now have a cool new word to communicate your situation.