"Refugees climb atop trains as blockades pepper European borders" is the title of this news article.

What does pepper mean?

Edit: this is the verb definition of pepper from Google definitions

1.sprinkle or season (food) with pepper. "peppered beef" synonyms: add pepper to, season, flavor "salt and pepper the potatoes"

2.cover or fill with a liberal amount of scattered items. "the script is peppered with four-letter words" synonyms: sprinkle, fleck, dot, spot, stipple; More

3.hit repeatedly with small missiles or gunshot. "another burst of enemy bullets peppered his defenseless body" synonyms: bombard, pelt, shower, rain down on, attack, assail, batter, strafe, rake, blitz, hit "a burst of bullets peppered the tank"

archaic 4.inflict severe punishment or suffering upon.

Edit: meaning of blockade from OALD

  1. the action of surrounding or closing a place, especially a port, in order to stop people or goods from coming in or out
    a naval blockade
    to impose/lift a blockade
    an economic blockade (= stopping goods from entering or leaving a country)
    blockades of roads by truck drivers protesting over pay

  2. a barrier that stops people or vehicles from entering or leaving a place
    The police set up blockades on highways leading out of the city.

  • You want the verb definition of "pepper". :) If you need more clarification, add the definition to your question using the edit button and explain what confuses you. :)
    – Catija
    Sep 2, 2015 at 14:48
  • I have edit the question with the definition from Google definition. I'm still not quite sure which or if any definitions is the correct one to the context.
    – Theo
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:07
  • 7
    It'd be the 2nd definition. If the blockades pepper the border, they it means they have scattered blockades all along the border. Think of it like this: if you pepper (v.) meat, you are taking a pinch of pepper (n.) and scattering it over the meat. Sep 2, 2015 at 15:09
  • I agree with imkingdavid, because the news title seems to be about how blockages were placed around or along the border. A similar definition by Macmillan: pepper: 1a. "to be in many different places all over a surface". Sep 2, 2015 at 15:23
  • 3
    It's not an optimal use of "pepper". Protests, say, might pepper a province or country, but as a border is essentially a boundary, a line, not a wide region or broad surface, a border doesn't lend itself to the metaphor.
    – TimR
    Sep 2, 2015 at 22:19

1 Answer 1


You want definition 2 of pepper (it's being used here as a verb) and definition 2 of blockade. The phrase "blockades pepper European borders" can be interpreted as "barriers are placed, in a scattered way, at many places on European borders".

  • Big disagreement. Meaning 3 is the correct one. The image here is of armor or a shell ("European borders") which are being struck repeatedly by refugees attempting to penetrate the borders. There is no attempt to "cover or fill", but rather to penetrate. Sep 3, 2015 at 0:38
  • 4
    @WhatRoughBeast: But the subject of the verb pepper here is not refugees but blockades. Sep 3, 2015 at 1:04
  • Agreed. But the same is true of meaning 3. In both cases the blockade is peppered by refugees. However, in your definition, the synonym for "pepper" is "cover" or "fill", and neither makes sense. The refugees are attempting to penetrate the blockades, not fill them or cover them. Sep 3, 2015 at 1:48
  • 6
    @WhatRoughBeast: Are we looking at the same sentence? There are two independent clauses joined by as: "Refugees climb atop trains" and "blockades pepper European borders". Blockades is the subject of the verb pepper, and borders is the direct object. The blockades are covering the borders. The refugees are neither peppering nor being peppered; they don't appear in this clause at all. Sep 3, 2015 at 1:52

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