The city has a dictionary, but perhaps what it really needs is a thesaurus.

Earlier this year, Honolulu officials took exception to Civil Beat‘s use of the word “raid” in a blog post about their sweeps of the homeless population from downtown parks and sidewalks.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell‘s spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, helpfully sent us’s definition of “raid”:

a : a hostile or predatory incursion

b : a surprise attack by a small force

“A raid by definition is a surprise,” Broder Van Dyke argued via email. “The illegal campers were given 24 hours notice by (the city) per city ordinance.”

He also didn’t like the implication that the non-raid was carried out by police, saying those officers were merely standing by.

That was in February. And at the time we agreed and pulled back from the word “raid.”

Since then, we’ve been referring to cleaning out the homeless and protesters from Honolulu’s sidewalks and parks as a “city enforcement action with police present.”

OK, so that was a bit burdensome and we did short-hand it to “sweeps.”

That seemed to please Broder Van Dyke, and we’ve noticed other media use the term “sweeps” as well and avoid calling these actions “raids.”

Caldwell has coined his own phrase for them — “compassionate disruption,” an expression with vaguely Orwellian undertones (although not as bad as peace-keeping missiles).

But the ousting of the Occupy Honolulu group at 11 p.m. one night last week and again at 4 a.m. Wednesday has prompted us to re-think our verbiage.

A new city ordinance that took effect on July 1 means officials no longer have to give 24 hours notice before moving in, police in tow, and scooping up people’s belongings. And they don’t. There’s no question these enforcement actions no longer include substantial notice and warning. They’re now a surprise.

If the city doesn’t like the word raid, how about: blitz, storm, harass, seizure…

Which takes us back to our original word-choice question: When does a “sweep” become a “raid?”

It starts when you’re rousted from your sleep at 4 a.m.