Kettling 1: meaning and history, p2

The first well-known modern use of kettling — not as a tactic of war or as a tool for facilitating genocide but as a way of responding to political dissent — took place in Hamburg, Germany in 1986 when 800 anti-nuclear demonstrators were kettled in a field for an entire day. Kettling has been used against street demonstrators in many places since then, but it is in Great Britain that the police have been most enthusiastic about the practice. Because the British police are so ready to kettle protesters and because the English language seems to have borrowed the name from German, it is natural to imagine that the idea of kettling also came to England from Germany. It is not possible to say for certain whether or not this is so but at least one British scholar thinks that it did. David Mead, of the University of East Anglia, an “expert in public order policing” has suggested that a group of British police who attended a football championship in Germany in 1988 and had there an opportunity to observe the crowd control methods of the German police brought the idea back to Britain.[2] He does not say whether or not they also brought back the word, but it seems likely that the German police, having impressed their British colleagues with their kettling technique, would have told them what they called it and that the British, noting the similarity in sound and meaning to English, would have adopted it in translation.

If the British police did bring the word home, however, they eventually lost their affection for it: Since the word has become common English, the police themselves have refused to use it. They prefer, instead, to speak of “containment.” Presumably, they find this less metaphorical label more dignified. Certainly it avoids giving any support to a popular but probably fanciful idea about the derivation of “kettling” which has often been suggested by opponents of the tactic: that kettling is called “kettling” because, just as water is put in a tea kettle to boil, protesters are put in a police kettle to make them “boil” with anger. Naturally the police do not like this idea because it implies they are kettling not — as they insist — to protect public order but to provoke violence from the protesters and in that way to give themselves an excuse for being violent in return.

Whether or not there is any truth to the idea that the word “kettling”is a metaphorical reference to a boiling tea kettle, a group of students in the UK have taken advantage of it to come up with a clever name for anti-kettling software they have invented.[3] The software, called “Sukey,” uses social networking sites and smart phones to enable protesters in different parts of a city to provide each other with instant information about police movements and so avoid being kettled. The name “Sukey” is an allusion to a well-known English nursery rhyme:

Polly put the kettle on
Polly put the kettle on
Polly put the kettle on
We’ll all have tea

Sukey take it off again
Sukey take it off again
Sukey take it off again
They’ve all gone away

print references: [1] Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War, Emanuel Ringelbaum, Joseph Kermish, Shmuel Krakowski, page 108, footnote 8; [4] The Economist, 11.01.28 (article about “Sukey”); online references: [2] The Sunday Edition, (a radio, broadcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) 11.06.26; [3] the “Sukey” website: http://sukey.org/. (The screen version of this reading has links to all these materials.)