The Preposition “Amid”

From Daily Writing Tips:

This post was prompted by a headline in the Washington Post:

US deports former Nazi guard whose wartime role was noted on card found amid sunken ship

The phrase “amid sunken ship” struck me as peculiar usage—not because an article was missing— it is a headline, after all—but because I couldn’t understand why the headline-writer didn’t choose to use the simpler preposition, in.

Nothing in the article below the headline specified where in the ship the card was found. I saw nothing to indicate that the card had been found amidships, that is, “in the middle of a ship.”

Amid has had a very long run in English. It descends from Old English on middan, “in the middle of.” Its current uptick in newspaper headlines is owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The word soared in use at the end of February 2020, when journalists made it the preposition of choice to use with the pandemic and matters relating to it. Previously more poetic than workaday, the word began to figure in numerous Google searches, spiking on March 1, 2020.

Now firmly established in the vocabulary of bad things happening, amid, plus a noun that denotes unpleasant things or circumstances, brings up millions of hits in a Google search:

amid the pandemic—about 294,000,000 results
amid lockdowns—about 21,300,000 results
amid virus—about 223,000,000 results
amid false claims— About 105,000,000 results
amid fears of more— About 101,000,000 results

The OED offers four definitions of amid as a preposition.

1. In the middle or center of. Originally with a genitive. Now only poetic.
Ex. “And all amid them [other trees] stood the Tree of Life.” Milton, Paradise Lost.

2. Of two things: Between. Obsolete
Ex. Leste heo thes deofles quarreaus habbe amidden then eien
Lest she have the devil’s arrows between her eyes. Ancrene Riwle.

3. More loosely, near the middle of a place, surrounded on all sides by objects. Chiefly poetic.

. . . .

4. In relation to the circumstances which surround an action.
a. with singular noun, (indicating state or condition).
Ex. My spirit sleeps amid the calm.

b. with plural noun (indicating actions or events).
Ex. Amid general shouts of dissent.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips