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Word of the Week: ‘stonewall’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘stonewall’.

This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots – a transformational moment in the LGBT community’s history.

The riots, which took place in June 1969, saw campaigners commit a series of spontaneous and violent demonstrations in reaction to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York.

As Pride month draws to a close, we look at the origins of the word that means so much to the global LGBT community.

What does ‘stonewall’ mean?

Though today the word ‘stonewall’ has become synonymous with the gay rights movement, this has not always been the case.

One meaning stems from cricket: “to play a defensive game, as by persistently blocking the ball instead of batting it for distance and runs.”

This definition has led to the use of the term in British politics. ‘Stonewalling’ is the act of obstructing the passage of a legislative bill in parliament.

This meaning of obstruction can be traced back to 1889 and grew from the metaphoric act of ‘stone walling’ someone, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as: “stopping a discussion from developing by refusing to answer questions or by talking in such a way that you prevent other people from giving their opinions.”

The word also holds military significance. During the First Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War, General Thomas Jackson was given the nickname of ‘stonewall’ after rushing forward to close a gap in a line of soldiers under attack. He was described by witnesses as standing stock still like a “stone wall”.

If however, we are to go by the latest mentions of ‘stonewalling’ in the news – the scandal surrounding Boris Johnson – one new definition might simply be: “refusing to disclose what your barney with the missus was about.”

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Roisin McCormack