Looking up 'bunch' with reference to a question on ELL, I noticed that Merriam-Webster's first definition is protuberance, swelling. I don't see a similar meaning given by other online dictionaries, so presumably it's an American usage.

Oddly, the only time I've ever seen the word used in that sense is in Patrick O'Brian's novels. Some of his characters use it to refer to a camel's hump(s).

"Come, Doctor, as a natural philosopher you will certainly confirm that the dromedary is the hairy animal with two bunches that moves slow."

Has anyone else come across this in British English?

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    Oliver Goldsmith Birth27 March 1841 - Waterman's Fields, Woolwich, ENGLAND, Death5 Dec 1922 - Gisborne, New Zealand, so I assme he wrote in "British English". Talking about a kind of hedgehog, he wrote ... resembling a small animal , with a bunch on its back where it's contextually obvious that bunch is a protuberance, swelling. But that's just the first one I found. I'm sure there will be others. Commented Mar 7 at 19:26
  • nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/becomingamer/growth/text8/… (see p. 8)
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 7 at 19:41
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    Is having hair or fabric in a bunch not acceptable British usage? That seems to fit the usage of "a protuberance" better than "a group of similar items". Commented Mar 7 at 19:45
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    I have not heard it used in that sense. Commented Mar 8 at 7:50
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    @NuclearHoagie - Is having hair or fabric in a bunch not acceptable British usage? Certainly it is - but I count that as the normal 'things gathered together' definition. Commented Mar 8 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


Since it’s been around since c1325, I don’t think we can label it American English. From the OED:

bunch noun1
1.a. A protuberance, esp. on the body of an animal; a hump on the back (of a human being, a camel, etc.); a goitre; a swelling, tumour. c1325–
Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

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    "Since it’s been around since c1325, I don’t think we can label it American English". Not true; it could go either way, since American English has a number of relics that have dropped out of usage in modern British English. You have to look at usage, not etymology.
    – Laurel
    Commented Mar 7 at 20:02
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    "Now rare" is the usage label in the SOED (no precision as to a particular variety of the language).
    – LPH
    Commented Mar 7 at 21:16
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    " a hump on the back (of a human being..." .. I wonder if this was the result of a typo or other confusion with hunch (like in hunchback)
    – muru
    Commented Mar 8 at 4:21
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    @Laurel I think the meaning was that we can’t label it a usage that arose in and is particular to US English. It may have fallen out of use elsewhere, but it is not a US invention. Commented Mar 8 at 12:24
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    @muru The etymonline entry for "hunch" suggests that it may be the other way around. This use of "bunch" is older.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:27

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