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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(v.) to tactically demote someone

To Stellenbosch someone is, in general terms, to remove them from office. But more specifically, the word refers to not necessarily an absolute ousting from a high-status position, but rather a subtle sidelining or nudging away: a removal from office to a place of arguably no lesser importance, but nevertheless one that is away from the action, where a person’s deeds and opinions can no longer have any impact.

Etymologically, yes, this is the same Stellenbosch that you can find on the map roughly 30 miles outside Cape Town. So how did the name of a South African town end up in the dictionary?

As a verb, Stellenbosch first emerged amidst the slang of British troops posted to South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899–1902). At that time, Stellenbosch was the site of a major military “remount” camp—that is, one responsible for the purchase, acquisition, training, and upkeep of army horses.

Boer War horses, South Africa, 1899, the origin of stellenbosch

Second Boer War horses, 1899 (Wikimedia Commons)

British military officers whose strategies or conduct had not proved successful on the battlefield would typically be sent to Stellenbosch, and there tasked with the behind-the-scenes job of managing the remount camp.

Looking after the horses was still an important job in turn-of-the-century warfare—but it was by no means frontline action, and the officers sent to Stellenbosch could ultimately no longer have much influence on the future conduct of the war. In that sense, being “Stellenbosched” came to mean being sidelined, pushed subtly from power—without necessarily any shame or dishonour—but to a place where influence could no longer be wielded.


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