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Please suggest the most proper word to describe the picture below.

enter image description here

Can I use "debris" to describe it?

Are they completely interchangeable?

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Debris is usually used when one is discussing things that must be cleaned up. I'd use wreckage or remains if I were discussing it from the point of view of analysis for example. Debris gives no hint as to its origin while wreckage and remains allude to some prior form. – Jim Jun 14 '14 at 17:46
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Debris is broken-apart pieces of stuff left over after some sort of violent event that pulls things apart. (Rubble is a close synonym.) Wreckage is what's left of something identifiable that has been damaged beyond repair, but as jimsug has mentioned, it would not be used to refer to living things that have died. In that case we would always use remains. Remains are what is left after something or someone has been wrecked or killed. So often wreckage and remains can refer to the same thing.

A few pictures of tornado damage should clarify the differences.

This is a picture of flying debris from a tornado:

Here is a picture of a piece of debris sticking through the wreckage of a car:

Here is the wreckage of a house and a truck after a tornado blew the truck into the house. As you can see, there is a fair amount of debris scattered about:

And here are the remains of a neighborhood after a huge tornado demolished it. As you can see, there is nothing left of it but piles of debris where houses used to be:

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"Wreckage ... would not be used to refer to living things that have died ... wreckage and remains can refer to the same thing – jimsug Jun 15 '14 at 4:35
I wouldn't describe them in that way, since it seems like a two-way equivalency. – jimsug Jun 15 '14 at 5:19
What improvement do you suggest? – BobRodes Jun 15 '14 at 18:44
"Remains" can refer to "wreckage". "Wreckage" can sometimes refer to "remains". – jimsug Jun 15 '14 at 22:10
I'm sorry, but I still don't see what you're getting at. My statement seems to me to amount to the same thing (if something is wreckage, it is also remains, but there are remains that are not wreckage) with some further elaboration. Can you explain why you see yours as an improvement? – BobRodes Jun 16 '14 at 2:42

debris or remains would be acceptable:

  • The debris from the crash of Flight XYZ
  • The remains of the aeroplane

However, debris and remains aren't completely interchangeable.

You would not use debris to describe parts of deceased/maimed living being.

  • The remains of the man were discovered...
  • not The debris of the man was discovered...

Also, I'd consider uses of remains as implying that the some kind of destruction or damage, whereas remains usually means more natural processes - what's just "left".

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For the item in this photo (an airplane) I would call this wreckage. This generally applies to things that are destroyed by some force, such as means of transportation (cars, trains, etc.)

debris in a very general sense could be used.

remains (as I use it) usually refers to living things that aren't living anymore, though by definition that is not the only usage.

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I disagree with the assertion that remains "usually" refers to living things. (It can, of course, but I wouldn't classify references to aircraft, shipwrecks, or spacecraft as "unusual" or "rare".) – J.R. Jun 15 '14 at 2:39
Fair enough. I updated my answer to indicate its the common usage I am aware of. – user3169 Jun 15 '14 at 3:59

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