Winnowing the war of words: “unrest”


  • To expose (grain or other substances) to the wind or to a current of air so that the lighter particles (as chaff or other refuse matter) are separated or blown away; to clear of refuse material by this method.
  • To subject to a process likened to the winnowing of grain, in order to separate the various parts or elements, esp. the good from the bad; hence, to clear of worthless or inferior elements.

Yesterday, across the major cities of Spain, public sector workers took to the street to protest the latest round of pay cuts and tax hikes — a further €65 billions worth — imposed by the right-wing Rajoy government. Explicitly this was a reverse Robin Hood raid, rifling the pockets of the workers to pay the bankers. (and, incidentally, as a way of persuading the Germans to support a bailout).

Here is the start of the BBC report:

Spanish police have fired rubber bullets to clear demonstrators in Madrid as a day of nationwide protests against spending cuts ended in unrest.

Protesters set alight rubbish bins as riot police charged them in the city centre, near the parliament building.

Seven people were arrested and at least six injured, officials said.

Earlier, tens of thousands of people held largely peaceful protests across Spain against the latest government austerity measures.

Public sector workers crowded the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and several other cities, chanting slogans against government “robbery”.

Among those protesting were firefighters and police officers, as well as health and education workers. “We have lived through bad times, but this takes the biscuit,” fireman Francisco Vaquero, 58, told the Reuters news agency.

We’re going to be with the OED for a while, so let’s start there (as above) and separate the wheat from the chaff.

With “riot police” and “rubber bullets”, arrests and injuries.

In a word (the BBC’s one, used above and in its headline): Unrest.

A classroom exercise

When Malcolm was short of a homework for lower-school, mixed-ability classes, a last-minute stand-by was to collect as many words as possible denoting size, and put them into ascending order. So a typical list might begin somewhere below “sub-atomic” and work up to”galactic”.

Could we do the same for protests and demonstrations?

  • It would presumably start, de minimis, with those Georgetown students who have cornered the market in White House placarding. You buy an hour of their time, chose your slogan, they mark it up on their boards, and parade up and down for the period of the contract.
  • At the other end rumble Syrian Army tanks.

But where in that spectrum does “unrest” fit?

Let us revisit the OED:

unrest, n. Absence of rest; disturbance, turmoil, trouble.

The citations seem mainly to concern personal matters: emotional and physical. Typically “unrest” involves the fall out from love affairs, as in Chaucer:

‘Lo, nece, I trowe ye han herd al how
The king, with othere lordes, for the beste,
Hath mad eschaunge of Antenor and yow,
That cause is of this sorwe and this unrest.
But how this cas doth Troilus moleste,
That may non erthely mannes tonge seye;
For verray wo his wit is al aweye.’

And all the way through the tradition to Byron:

And Hugo is gone to his lonely bed,
To covet there another’s bride;
But she must lay her conscious head
A husband’s trusting heart beside.
But fevered in her sleep she seems,
And red her cheek with troubled dreams,
And mutters she in her unrest
A name she dare not breathe by day,
And clasps her lord unto the breast
Which pants for one away:
And he to that embrace awakes,
And, happy in the thought, mistakes
That dreaming sigh, and warm caress,
For such as he was wont to bless;
And could in very fondness weep
O’er her who loves him even in sleep.

Here’s a good one, from the 15th century Rule of Syon monastery:

In the dortour … none schal … make any noise of unreste, aboute makyng of ther beddes.

Which, no matter how one stretches the word, it seems a long way from the streets of Madrid and Barcelona.

At least wikipedia seems on the ball:

Unrest (also called disaffection) is a sociological phenomenon, for instance:

Which seems, curiously, to have gone to the opposite extreme.

Remember: it’s all a matter of wind or a current of air. The lighter particles (as chaff or other refuse matter) are separated or blown away.

Any clear vision of “truth” is reduced to refuse material by this method.


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Filed under BBC, bigotry, Europe, policing, politics, reading

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