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Friday, 29 January 2016

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts

In Prime Minister’s Questions this week, David Cameron said this:

"The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in that regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week. They met with the unions and they gave them flying pickets, they met with the Argentinians and they gave them the Falkland Islands, they met with a bunch of migrants in Calais and said they could all come to Britain - the only people they never stand up for are the British people and the hardworking taxpayer."

Prime Minister’s Questions is a piece of parliamentary flimflam, a Punch and Judy knockabout that many tune into, more for entertainment than anything more serious, though at the same time judgements are made on the calibre of leadership.
In this particular case four words were seized upon:
‘a bunch of migrants.’
For the easily offended it was pass the smelling salts time.
For the more politically astute the faux outrage that followed was essentially an attempt to score points—their constituency, those already opposed to the government’s policy on immigration.
For Cameron it was a piece of tough talking argot calculated to appeal those who thought he wasn’t hard enough. Politician and P.R. man, he knew the constituency he was after.

This post isn’t about politics. This post isn’t about the merits of immigration or otherwise. It is about our weird and wonderful language and one particular word.
One dictionary definition is:
 a group of things of the same kind that are held or tied together or that grow together. : a group of people or things that are together or are associated with each other in some way. : a large amount

Bunch is wonderfully versatile. You can use it in any context but one:
 A bunch of banana, a bunch of grapes, The Wild Bunch. Girls can wear their hair in bunches. You can have a bunch of mates around for a drink, especially if they’re a great bunch of mates. But conjoin bunch with migrants and all hell in a teacup breaks out.

You might ask which word is actually at fault here. It’s a linguistic question. I’m not saying migrants as migrants are at fault. They have every right to try and better themselves by moving to another country, just as an established community has every right to decide how many it wants. Sincere views will be held on both sides.  The question is how the conjoining of two words makes something toxic in one context and not in another. So why is ‘a bunch of mates’ acceptable and a ‘bunch of migrants’ not?  Answers on a post card please.


Maria Zannini said...

You make the most startling observations that are right on the money.

I imagine the word migrants already has a controversial taste to it so adding 'bunch' automatically paints the speaker as biased.

Re: . They have every right to try and better themselves by moving to another country, just as an established community has every right to decide how many it wants.

True. But in order to improve your own country a good citizen should stay and fix the problem. Running away lets the bad guys win.

Mike Keyton said...

You're probably right, Maria. Culture, context and prejudice makes 'a bunch of Arabs' less attractive than 'a bunch of Canadians.' I take your last point, too, though having said that you can struggle from a quagmire, you can't fight it. In Syria there are so many proxy dog fights, whichever dog you choose to align with there is no chance of winning. I wrote a post ages ago about order and stability trumping democracy and how one day Assad's rule would be seen as a golden age. In terms of an imperfect future I see a Russian, Iranian, Assad solution as the only one viable, but much blood and treasure will be spent before then