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A bun-worry

The phrase "bunfight" has been in avid use today, apropos of UK university Clearing, the process by which would-be university students go shopping for last-minute university paces, this year run on an unprecedented scale. (For example, in this THE article.)

I've assumed from long-casual reading that it meant "a conflict over something relatively trivial." But today's ubiquity prompted me to go digging a bit further.

The OED fails to mention this meaning, which briefly made me wonder if I had it all wrong.
bun-fight n. a jocular expression for a tea-party (cf. tea-fight n. at tea n. Compounds 3).
1928 R. Campbell Wayzgoose 7 It [the wayzgoose] combines the functions of a bun-fight, an Eisteddfod and an Olympic contest.

But it was baffling to think my friends were calling Clearing an expression of civility.

Collins does better with meaning #2 being "a petty squabble or argument".

Following up on a tea-fight via the OED....
tea-fight n. colloq. or slang humorous name for a tea-party or tea-meeting.
1849 A. R. Smith Pottleton Legacy xxxv, Their various small parties—‘tea-fights’ as young Grant called them.
1901 Scotsman 5 Mar. 7/5 The good people..organise a splendid weekly tea-fight and concert for our behoof.


bun-struggle n. = bun-fight n.
1899 R. Whiteing No. 5 John St. vi. 53 She wants yer to show up at a sort o' bun-struggle in 'er room..kind of a tea-fight.

bun-worry n. = bun-fight n.
1889 A. Barrère & C. G. Leland Dict. Slang Bun-struggle or worry (army), a tea meeting; an entertainment [for] soldiers in a garrison.
1911 W. De Morgan Likely Story 224 Madeline..had been going to a Bun-worry.


And as a bonus
† tea-shine n. colloq. Obs. a tea-party (cf. tea-fight n.).
1838 J. W. Carlyle Lett. (1883) I. 98 Two tea-shines went off with éclat.


A bun-fight Ngram: the rise of "bunfight", although without distinguishing between its senses.

Another person to briefly look at the subject observed the nineteenth-century terms "crumpet-scamble" and "muffin-worry" as synonyms for "bunfight", in the sense of "tea party".

It's not clear than anyone has bothered digging back to exactly where the argument meaning was first documented, but presumably it was post-'20s.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
lil_shepherd
Aug. 13th, 2015 01:20 pm (UTC)
To me, a 'bun fight' is either a tea party or something very like it with lots of people scrabbling for the tea and food or, metaphorically, "lots of people in a confined space trying to do or buy things" (which is, I suspect, what many of the people talking about clearing meant.) Ina says the same. Of course, we are both in our sixties...
inamac
Aug. 13th, 2015 01:41 pm (UTC)
I've mostly heard it in connection with the January Sales - to which the University Clearing system bears a lot of similarity. Lots of people scrabbling for a limited amount of goods in a short period of time.
gillo
Aug. 13th, 2015 02:34 pm (UTC)
I think in this instance the implication is that it's a crowded mess, as a real fight with cream buns would be.

I always used to hate this day, at school, dealing with traumatised kids who actually believe they have no future of any kind. Though it was satisfying to help them and always nice to hug those who had done well.

Now I have a lot of sympathy for university folks, also dealing with tearful teenagers. Bloody government made it all much worse for everybody, of course.
alextiefling
Aug. 13th, 2015 07:45 pm (UTC)
I may not be representative here, but I think of the rise of the 'squabble' meaning of bunfight as very recent indeed. When I was younger, it invariably meant some kind of catered event that stopped short of a full meal.
desperance
Aug. 14th, 2015 12:31 am (UTC)
Fairly sure I encountered bun-fight as meaning merely a tea-party in both Wodehouse and Sayers.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )