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I need someone to help me to define the meaning of the word "en masse" in the following context:

the initial aim of internment during the later conflict was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and Japanese residents were interned en masse "

Which of the following interpretations is correct?

  1. the initial aim of internment during the later conflict was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and Japanese residents were interned together

  2. the initial aim of internment during the later conflict was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and all Japanese residents were interned

  • @Josh61 - 'Masse' is a French noun, but I disagree that 'en masse' is a noun (in other words, the dictionary's part-of-speech description is wrong). Here, the phrase has an adverbial function: it describes the manner in which the Japanese residents were interned. Incidentally, the 'en' in the French phrase means 'as', 'in the manner of'. – Erik Kowal Sep 15 '14 at 7:46
  • en masse: In one group or body; all together: The protesters marched en masse to the capitol. [French : en, in + masse, mass.] thefreedictionary.com/en+masse – user66974 Sep 15 '14 at 7:56
  • @ErikKowal: you are right, and that is why a more reliable source like ODO qualifies en masse correctly as an adverb. Good example of why sources matter sometimes! :) – oerkelens Sep 15 '14 at 7:56
  • @Eddie Given the (easy-to-find) dictionary references, is there anything unclear about the meaning of en masse, and if yes, could you elaborate? – oerkelens Sep 15 '14 at 7:58
  • As OD says, does the adverbial mean 'all imprisoned' or 'all put in the same prison'? The former. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 15 '14 at 8:19
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"the initial aim of internment during the later conflict was to identify and intern those who posed a particular threat to the safety or defence of the country. As the war progressed, however, this policy changed and Japanese residents were interned en masse."

The first sentence states that only those who posed a threat to the country were interned. There was a defined established reason as why a Japanese would be interned.

The second sentence describes that this way of doing things changed and no distinction was applied in the internment anymore. All the Japanese were interned, without any distinction or clearly provided criteria: They were being interned en masse.

The Merriam Webster defines en masse as:

in a body : as a whole

So here, we can say that all the Japanese, the Japanese as a whole were being interned.

And, no that doesn't imply they were interned together.

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    This is very interesting, as in French (and, as I happen to know, also in German) "en masse" means a great quantity (en grande quantité, en grande nombre), but not "all (of a group)". Has this expression really undergone such a change since coming into the English language? Would it not make more sense when the term meant something like "in huge numbers"? It's easy to see how huge numbers of Japanes were being interned, compared to all of them! – seagull Mar 21 '17 at 18:40
  • @seagull I am with you on the original meaning of the expression en masse in French, and with you in the making more sense point. I, too, am inclined to adopt this meaning over the one given by Merriam Webster, since it is the meaning that comes to mind-my French familiarized mind- but I now know better than to give in to this... logical trick of the brain, and I have come to accept that expressions from French do not retain their original French meaning completely/at all, and that they become what the English speakers saw in them through the appropriation process, even if my brain disagrees – Mina Mar 26 '17 at 16:25
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    However, even Collins as well as thefreedictionary.com give example sentences which — in my opinion — corroborate the “in huge numbers” meaning. Please look especially at the en masse renewed kitchens and bathrooms or the references in classic literature: Hollywood decamping en masse to Venice and the company that recruits en masse in Poland. All of these should not be possible with the "all of them" definition. – seagull Mar 27 '17 at 9:32
  • Maybe it's a question of British English vs. American English, the latter being far more remote from the original French meaning? – seagull Mar 27 '17 at 9:33
  • @seagull I may have been too prompt to take your side on the definition of the expression in French. Instead of commenting without fully thinking it through, I should have made this distinction: the literal meaning of the expression en masse means in great quantities in French as in production en masse. But there exists the 'figurative' meaning of the expression that means just that: as a whole and all of them. See this entry in wiktionnaire. So I was wrong to say that the meaning was altered as a result of the appropriation process. – Mina Apr 1 '17 at 9:31

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