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The Meaning of Headlines: 'to make a stand' - culture

In the Culture section of the BBC appears an article published on 24 June 2016 with the headline: Sitting down to make a stand. What does ‘make a stand’ mean?

‘To make a stand’ or ‘to take a stand’ means ‘to make a determined effort to defend something or to stop something from happening’ according the Cambride Idioms Dictionary (2006, 2nd edition). The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary indicates that ‘to make a stand’ means to ‘hold firm against someone or something.’ It’s early meaning was to hold ground against an enemy who held different views of a issue.

Who is defending what against whom? And what does standing have to do with sitting down?

The article explains that congressmen and women held a ‘sit-in’ on the floor of the United States House of Representatives during the week to ‘demand action on gun legislation.’ Initiated by civil rights leader, John Lewis, on Wednesday 22 June, 20 Democrats left their seats and sat on the floor in an effort to prevent an adjournment of Congress to 4 July before members could vote on legislation to tighten federal gun laws. ‘The extraordinary action’ was taken after the Orlando Florida gay nightclub killings in which 49 people were gunned down.

The congressmen and congresswomen were ‘lounging in political defiance.’ The reporter compared the scene with sketches by British war artist Henry Moore (called Shelter Drawings) during the air raids in World War II. This is the reason why the article was in the Culture section and not the Politics section of the online news journal. Was the comparison a bit extreme?

The article asks readers to ‘reflect on the very posture of human courage.’ This was a peaceful sit-in. The reporter writes that ‘the postures chronicled in these images are reminiscent … of the awkward ergonomics of a bravely embattled people, who hunker in determination that they will survive the next assault.’ Hunker means ‘to squat or crouch low.’ Therefore the parliamentarians were sitting or crouching to ‘make a stand’ against gun laws. The act of sitting, instead of standing and walking around with signs and posters, is a show of non-aggression. They are not making themselves bigger and taller and stronger – they are making themselves smaller, but no less defiant.

The Scorecard for the BBC headline is 100%. The article is not directly reporting on the issue or its outcome, but on the posture of a defiant but peaceful protest. The action of ‘sitting’ is in focus here, as the parliamentarians ‘make a stand’ – i.e. make a determined effort to defend their views. It is a contrasting and effective use of opposing images to reinforce opposing opinions.

MARTINA NICOLLS is an international aid and development consultant, and the author of:- The Shortness of Life: A Mongolian Lament (2015), Liberia’s Deadest Ends (2012), Bardot’s Comet (2011), Kashmir on a Knife-Edge (2010) and The Sudan Curse (2009).


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