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'They are us' voted New Zealand's quote of 2019

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s unifying phrase "They are us", uttered several times in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings, has taken out the 2019 Massey University Quote of the Year.

Competition organiser and speech writing lecturer Dr Heather Kavan says the three words have been seared in our collective memory since March 15, making the quote a worthy winner.

"Jacinda Ardern told an interviewer from The Guardian that she wrote the line intuitively, scrawling these and other words on a piece of paper in the short interlude between being informed of the attack and speaking about it at a press conference," Dr Kavan says.

"I think the quote resonated because she conveyed the feelings and thoughts of New Zealanders as we put ourselves in the shoes of the victims and their families.

"One thing I find interesting about the quote is its contrast with the famous 19th century ‘They are ours’ line, referring to an enemy to be conquered. With only two letters removed, the whole meaning is changed from arrogance to empathy."

The quote received 20 per cent of the 4500 votes cast for the 10 finalists in this year’s competition, followed by 18 per cent for the runner-up, "Hello Brother", words spoken by Haji-Daoud Nabi to the gunman at the entrance to the Al Noor mosque just before he was shot and killed.

"This quote was so powerful that people told me they thought about it for hours afterward, Dr Kavan says. "The words have an almost visceral effect. Before Jacinda Ardern spoke a message of unity, Haji-Daoud Nabi lived and breathed it in his final moments as he faced the killer.

"We don’t have an image of him saying ‘Hello Brother’ because the footage is banned, nor will we ever know what he was thinking or feeling. But if ever there was an existential moment, this was it."

Internet meme comes in third

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s "Okay, boomer", a dismissal of National MP Todd Muller’s interruption during her climate change speech in Parliament, attracted 15 per cent of the vote. This quote was neck-and-neck with "They are us" in the early stages of voting, before dropping back to third place.

"I think ‘Okay, Boomer’ did well because it has a rebellious appeal and generates camaraderie among young people who are probably tired of being labelled snowflakes," Dr Kavan says. "There’s been a huge amount of discussion about the quote and it has been emblazoned on t-shirts and hoodies. However, the fact that voting numbers declined with the passage of days suggests people may be getting ‘Okay boomer’ fatigue."

Dr Kavan says the tone of the 2019 list of finalists was more sombre than in past years, but this reflects well on New Zealanders.

"I’d like to thank voters and the people who said the quotes. The United States list was released this week and its top quote is Donald Trump’s ‘I would like you to do us a favor, though’ to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky. How different is that from ‘They are us’ and ‘Hello Brother’?"

2019 Quote of the Year finalists in order of votes received

"They are us." - Jacinda Ardern speaking about Muslim victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack, in the aftermath of the killings.

"Hello Brother." - Shooting victim Haji-Daoud Nabi’s last words to the gunman at the Al Noor mosque entrance.

"Okay, boomer." - Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick dismissing 51-year-old National MP Todd Muller’s interruption during her climate change speech in Parliament.

"We are broken hearted, but we are not broken." - Imam Gamal Fouda of Al Noor mosque after the Christchurch terrorist attacks.

"Just imagine if Colonel Sanders gave up the first time he wanted funding for his recipe. We would not have had that succulent chicken." - Destiny Church’s Hannah Tamaki when asked how her new political party would raise funds.

"You can’t consent to murder." - Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey summing up the Grace Millane murder case.

"There is scientific evidence that shows it makes me faster. It was done at Harvard, I think.'' - All Black Jack Goodhue on why he is keeping his mullet haircut.

"He's about as welcome as diarrhoea in a wetsuit in that place." - Greenpeace’s Russell Norman on pro-coal Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attending the forum on climate change at Tuvalu.

"We're going to a super over! You are kidding me! You are kidding me!" - Ian Smith’s exuberant commentary at the Cricket World Cup final.

"I think the doves are rising up." - Actor Lucy Lawless on the School Fight for Climate.

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