Cordon Off: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 30, 2023

The phrase "cordon off" is frequently used to describe blocking an area or preventing access to it, often for safety or security reasons. It implies setting up a physical barrier, like a rope, tape, or cones, to keep people away from a particular area. This term can appear in various situations, from crime scenes to construction sites.

In short:

  • It means to block off or isolate an area with a barrier or restrict access to it.

What Does "Cordon Off" Mean?

When someone says to "cordon off" an area, they mean to block it off and stop people from entering. This is usually done to keep a place secure or to protect people from danger. For example, police might cordon off a crime scene to collect evidence, or workers might cordon off a construction area to prevent accidents.

Here's a deeper look at its meaning and use:

  • It involves creating a physical boundary around an area.
  • The phrase is used when there's a need to control access to a specific place for safety, investigation, or privacy.
  • It is commonly seen in emergencies but can also be used during events or construction work.
  • People often use barriers like tape, cones, or ropes to create the cordon.
  • Similar terms include "block off," "seal off," and "restrict access."

Where Does "Cordon Off" Come From?

The origin of "cordon off" traces back to the word "cordon," which means a line or circle of police, soldiers, or guards preventing access to or from an area. The word "cordon" itself originated from the French word for "ribbon." The practice of creating a 'cordon' likely dates back to the times when actual ribbons or cords were used to encircle an area for security or ceremonial purposes.

Historical Example

"Although the virus was ready for use on the Bechuanaland side by July 26th the date of commencement of the inoculation was postponed by more than a month, to enable the Union to cordon off their own infected areas and the border effectively."

- Bechuanaland: Report by Great Britain. Colonial Office, 1956

10 Examples of “Cordon Off” in Sentences

Here are ten sentences that demonstrate the varied applications of "cordon off":

  • That's why the police had to cordon off the area; it was due to the unexpected protest.
  • For safety reasons, the construction workers decided to cordon off the entrance.
  • After the accident, they had to cordon off that section of the highway.
  • Mary preferred to cordon off her personal life from her colleagues, and when they started prying, she asked them to let it go.
  • During the parade, the city officials decided to cordon off several streets.
  • The museum had to cordon off certain artifacts that were too delicate to be touched.
  • Because of the flood, the local authorities had to cordon off the park.
  • The management decided to cordon off the broken escalator until repairs were completed.
  • Whenever he felt overwhelmed, Jake would cordon off some time for himself.
  • I was glad to hear that to protect the endangered species. The nature reserve decided to buckle down and cordon off a specific region.

Examples of “Cordon Off” in Pop Culture

The idiom "cordon off" has made its way into various aspects of pop culture, from movies to books and news articles.

Here are some notable examples:

  • In the movie "The Dark Knight," the police cordon off the entire streets of Gotham to hunt for the Joker.
  • The phrase was used in a news article discussing the aftermath of a major event: "Authorities were quick to cordon off the area following the explosion."
  • In the novel "The Stand" by Stephen King, the military attempts to cordon off an entire town to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.
  • The TV series "Chernobyl" depicts Soviet officials trying to cordon off the area around the nuclear plant after the disaster.
  • In the movie "Contagion," areas affected by the virus are quickly cordoned off to prevent further spread.
  • A BBC news report mentioned, "The fire brigade had to cordon off the building due to fears of it collapsing."

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say “Cordon Off”

If you're looking for different ways to express the idea of "cordon off," consider the following synonyms and related terms:

  • Seal off
  • Block off
  • Fence off
  • Shut off
  • Isolate
  • Quarantine
  • Restrict access
  • Enclose
  • Barrier up
  • Screen off

10 Frequently Asked Questions About “Cordon Off”:

  • What does "cordon off" mean?

It refers to creating a barrier or blockade to prevent access to a specific area or thing. This can be either a physical restriction, like taping off a crime scene, or a symbolic one, like keeping certain aspects of one's life private.

  • Where did the phrase "cordon off" originate?

The term has its roots in the military and law enforcement world. The word "cordon" is derived from the French word "corde," which means rope. Ropes were historically used as barriers.

  • Can "cordon off" be used in a non-physical context?

Yes, it can be used symbolically or metaphorically. For instance, one might "cordon off" a part of their life, meaning they keep it private or separate from other aspects.

  • Is "cordon off" a formal or informal expression?

It can be used in both formal and informal contexts. While it might be found in official reports or news articles, it's also commonly used in everyday conversations.

  • Are there any other terms similar to "cordon off"?

Yes, some synonyms include "seal off," "block off," "fence off," and "isolate," among others.

  • Why is "cordon off" frequently used in crime-related scenarios?

Because it aptly describes the act of restricting access to a particular area, which is often required at crime scenes for evidence preservation and public safety.

  • Is "cordon off" used globally or just in specific regions?

The term is understood and used in many English-speaking countries, although its frequency might vary depending on regional idiomatic preferences.

  • Can "cordon off" refer to emotional boundaries?

Absolutely. Just as one can "cordon off" a physical space, individuals might "cordon off" their emotions or memories, indicating a protective barrier or distance they've established.

  • How has the use of "cordon off" evolved over time?

While its origins are more militaristic, today it's applied in a plethora of situations, from health protocols to personal introspection. Its meaning has expanded beyond just a physical barrier to more symbolic usages.

  • Is "cordon off" more commonly used in writing or speech?

It's versatile and can be found in both written and spoken English, be it in news reports, literature, or casual conversations.

Final Thoughts About "Cordon Off"

"Cordon off" is a practical phrase indicating restricted access, often used for safety and security. It's a common term in both public and private sectors.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It's mainly about safety, security, and control.
  • Not limited to physical spaces, it can be used figuratively.
  • Various materials can be used for cordoning off.
  • Both temporary and permanent situations can involve cordoning off.

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