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They are turning us into a bunch of slaves.

What I mean by the above sentence is that "they are turning us into slaves that are all the same and don't have individual value.

Is that sense somehow in "a bunch of"? Or any other suggestions instead?

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    Yes - such "metaphoric" use of idiomatic / colloquial a bunch of usually does carry negative / pejorative implications. You're much more likely to encounter They're a bunch of thieves (over 6000 hits in Google Books) than, say, You're a bunch of honest men. Admittedly, thieves are about 10 times more common than honest men overall (in both language and society in general! :), but that usage ratio is 1000:1, not 10:1. – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '18 at 12:35
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    But you also encounter it in non-pejorative senses, like A bunch of us are getting together for a big party. – stangdon Jul 24 '18 at 12:36
  • If you think it's always pejorative, try Googling "a bunch of flowers" and see just how much people and companies celebrate such bunches. – Robusto Jul 24 '18 at 13:47
  • I met my new flat-mates today. What a great bunch of guys! Yes. Feel the negativity. In this context, "slaves" carries all the negativity. I really don't understand how someone could expand that context to include the quantification. It's irrational. – user9570789 Jul 24 '18 at 20:45
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I disagree that "a bunch of" has inherent negative or pejorative connotations.

I would say that because it is a casual, informal way of saying "a lot" of something it has an effect on the way a sentence or statement may be viewed overall. If that is something negative then it may well make the sentence more negative, or even more pejorative. Because it is casual it may show a lack of respect for the subject matter, but does not by itself infer any disdain.

For example:

There are some children in the street.

There is nothing negative or pejorative about this statement to me. In fact it is very straight and factual.

There's a bunch of children in the street.

Again, as written this doesn't seem negative to me.

There's a bunch of kids in the street.

Now I feel this may be starting to sound a little negative. The sort of thing someone says when they are suspicious of children. But if you agree with me then it is the introduction of the informal term "kids" that changed the way this statement sounded. Even though the word "kids" isn't necessarily pejorative in itself, the sentence is now entirely informal and perhaps lacks any evidence of respect for the subject.

Similarly in your example about slaves - using "a bunch of.." when speaking about what is widely regarded as a sensitive subject shows a lack of respect and does make it seem intentionally pejorative.

There are plenty of situations where "bunch" is used positively. It all depends on what words it accompanies.

You have a nice bunch of friends. positive
Your friends are a bunch of jerks. negative

I believe the heavy use of the expression to be peculiar to American English. I am a native British English speaker and we don't use use the word "bunch" quite as often. Obviously we use it in the expected, formal contexts (a bunch of bananas, for example) and it is not uncommon to hear it used less formally (as in a bunch of kids). But Americans use it for things that are really not counted in bunches, for example "I've seen that movie a bunch of times". It would seem to me to be the default collective word for many and so I don't believe it should be taken as read that it is always intended to be pejorative or disrespectful.

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  • And "a lot" is a casual informal way of saying "many". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 24 '18 at 13:58
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo no idea what you are trying to infer with that. I agree that "a lot" it is an alternative way of saying "many", I'm not sure I would call it casual or informal; no more casual than "many" at least. "A bunch" is very much an American colloquialism, in England we don't use it often that way. We might say "a bunch of kids" but never "a bunch of times" which I have heard Americans say often. – Astralbee Jul 24 '18 at 14:36
  • Those are a great bunch of guys. There's an example of a very positive use of the word "bunch". You are absolutely correct that there is no inherent positive or negative connotation. – user9570789 Jul 24 '18 at 20:42
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By definition, a 'bunch' is a group of people or things with one or more characteristics in common.

a number of things of the same type fastened together or in a close group (Cambridge Dictionary

A bunch of people is a group of people who share one or more characteristics or who are doing something together Collins Dictionary

However, simply sharing certain characteristics does not necessarily imply a loss of individuality. I know of two or three families with twins. Those children share many similar characteristics, but they have undeniably different personalities.

I will agree that 'a bunch of ____" is often completed by a noun that is pejorative in nature, e.g.:

Don't believe them, they are a bunch of liars.

I wouldn't trust them; they are a bunch of thieves.

Ignore them, they are just a bunch of jerks looking for trouble.

However, I do not think that the sharing of one or more characteristics is necessarily pejorative. Further, the phrase 'a bunch of ____' does not always create a negative impression; it all depends on the word at the end of that phrase. A bystander may not enjoy sharing a bus for an hour with a bunch of party-goers if he is just an on-looker, be he might if they asked him to join the party.

There is nothing sinister implied in any of the following.

On Valentine's Day my husband bought me a beautiful bunch of roses.

My friend visited me in hospital and brought a big bunch of grapes.

Sarah's new university friends seem to be a great bunch.

I think that this simply shows that when the phrase 'a bunch of' is completed with a pejorative term then the phrase takes on a negative aspect, but when it is completed with a neutral or positive term then that negative aspect is not present.

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I'm almost sure that "a bunch of" is always going to be at least somewhat pejorative.

I do think it carries the connotation of some kind of removal of individual identity - & that in itself is the pejorative sense, even if the bunch that they are has no other truly negative connotation.
After all, a bunch of bananas is in itself a collection of items so similar that attempting to tell one from another would be rather fruitless ;)

Test it by, in your imagination, setting this "bunch of" on a bus or a boat you have to share...

A bunch of party-goers. They're all having fun. Individually they might all be lovely people, but right now I'm not sure it would be your idea of fun to share the same bus for an hour, as merely a bystander.

A bunch of slaves. On a boat, they would most likely be doing the rowing. You would be unlikely to want to interact with them on a social level.

As already noted in comments, thieves are more likely to be cast as a bunch than honest men, so it feels more difficult to apply the term to 'nice things'.

Similarly, if you were sharing your bus with nuns, I think you would be less likely to call them a bunch, even though they possibly fit all the other criteria by which you would bunch them together - identical dress, the relative anonymity that that 'outfit' imparts; several of them sitting together...

However, returning to "a bunch of slaves" - even though there is the sense that individual identity is being removed, I'm sure the main consideration would be the implicit captivity, and forced labour for no pay.

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  • A bunch is informal, so may more likely be used in circumstances where you are drawing a contrast between members and non-members of a group, but a bunch of us are going to happy hour right after the meeting denies no more agency than a group of us. This is worded too strongly, not least because the notion that being part of a group signifies a loss of individuality, or that doing so is inherently negative, is not one that will be univerally held. – choster Jul 24 '18 at 15:45
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bunch is not necessarily pejorative, but it is something, and exactly what it is is hard to put into words.

You guys are a bunch of geniuses!

You guys are a bunch of idiots!

In the first, the speaker is pleased they're together there, in the latter, displeased. There are times when you want to gather or embrace a bunch, and times when you want to toss a bunch.

It is an intensifier of the attributed collective quality.

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