August 13th, 2015

Feast

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".

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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.