Who uses it: International relief workers, lawyers, and consular officials
What it means: Someone who seeks asylum in another country in order to escape political or religious persecution.
How you can use it: More carefully than I do.
The word "refugee" got thrown around a lot in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and I didn't see much wrong with it, until I looked it up. "Refugee" has a specific meaning under international treaties, and even those displaced by environmental disasters don't count as refugees. Refugees, escaping from people or agencies that want to hurt them, are entitled to protections that other displaced people may not be.
It's sad and baffling that some families are still living in hotel rooms, five months after Katrina wiped out their homes, jobs, and belongings. Five months is a long time to be paralyzed; it's not enough time to rebuild your life, but it's enough time to imagine what rebuilding your life might involve.
I myself have taken refuge with the Lechners in Freeport, because I'm coming down with the flu. My throat and ears feel as if they've been scrubbed with steel wool, and I ache all over. I'm up at 4:30 because I haven't really been able to sleep, though I feel too crummy to get much work done. Miserable.