Engerland, Engerland

by Maria on July 13, 2006

A recent British expat writes today about life in Belgium; a familiar topic here at CT. But what strikes me is this sentence; “It’s my first proper visit to the “UK” (as expatriates and no-one else calls it) since I moved to Brussels”. Admitedly, ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ is inconcise. The writer evidently calls it ‘Britain’ – something I hardly ever heard, despite living there for three years. I had a non-expat British friend visiting this week, and she only ever called it ‘the UK’. ‘Britain’ sounds like something the Queen would say. It sounds mustily heroic. As in ‘The Battle of’. ‘The UK’ is much more now, much more New Labour, totally Third Way. And not as cringingly embarrassing as Cool Britannia.

Several years ago, I gave a talk to a mixed group of Northern Irish business people (It was on compliance with the E-Commerce Directive; they were rapt.). Half way through, I realised I didn’t know how to refer to, er, ‘the mainland’. But they were a lovely, warm audience and only slightly embarrassed for me, and during the Q&A they gently illustrated the accepted usage. They say ‘GB’ to mean the island of Britain, and ‘NI’ for their own patch. I know they also had an elegantly benign name for the South, I just can’t remember it. Maybe it was ‘the South’.

But the worst, the absolute block your ears, nails on a black board worst is when people say ‘England’ instead of ‘the UK’ or even ‘Britain’. And, sorry, but Americans are the worst offenders. They say things like ‘London, England’ which is of course superfluous because there is only one London. (I say this having spent a weekend in London, Ontario.) We all know London is located in England, but it is the capital of the UK. It’s a really bad habit to keep saying ‘England’ as if it’s interchangeable with ‘Britain’. It’s not. Saying ‘England’ when you mean ‘Britain’ is gauche and annoying and very, very blonde.

There are moments to say ‘England’, but they’re actually quite rare. One of those moments is when England plays in the world cup – it’s the England team, as of course the Scots and Welsh are too rubbish to qualify. But England does not enter the Olympics; Britain does. And England will not decide whether to join the EMU, Britain will. (Arguably.) England has never held the presidency of the EU, or hosted the G8, or invaded a country on its own (at least not in a few hundred years), because it’s not a state. Of course England has a certain status. And there’s that constitutional oddity that has the Welsh and Scots deciding their own issues at their own assemblies, but being able to chip in when Westminster decides purely English questions. But that is no excuse to toss your hair and talk about your summer holidays in ‘England’ where you also took in the Lake District.

An (English) rose by any other name does not smell so sweet.



tom s. 07.13.06 at 12:02 pm

You are right, of course, and I also grimace when hearing “England” used this way (as I do often, living in Canada).

But let those without sin cast the first stone.

The number of times since I have been over here that I’ve heard British people (UK-ians?) talk about “America” and include Canada in that boggles the mind. I’ve seen the Grauniad refer to Naomi Klein as American and observe that the BlackBerry comes “of course, from America”.

One prize was when David Owen, being interviewed one late November day on the CBC, wished his listeners a happy thanksgiving. He was clearly pleased with himself for knowing that Americans had this odd holiday, and for knowing when it was.

Too bad that he didn’t know that Canadian’s had alread celebrated Thanksgiving 6 weeks earlier.

I made the same mistake when I first came over. For some reason, Canadians aren’t keen on it.

Just saying, that’s all…


Maria 07.13.06 at 12:08 pm

Yes! Examples of two way traffic abound. And let’s not start on ‘the British Isles’.


SamChevre 07.13.06 at 12:09 pm

Great Britain and England are two different entities. My (Glaswegian-ancestry) wife would strongly concur.

In the other direction–not all Americans are Yankees. Yankee is a significant insult in the South, not a self-description.


P O'Neill 07.13.06 at 12:14 pm

And England will not decide whether to join the EMU, Britain will.

The UK will, shurely?

Incidentally, this is all somewhat relevant to the controversy (if one can call it that) about whether there is anything substantive implied in the Irish government’s decision to have their nameplates at EU meetings now refer to Eire/Ireland and not just Ireland as before. The government sez that it simply mirrors the adoption of Irish as a semi-official EU language, but it strays into the question of whether, in an English language conversation, one should refer to the 26 counties as “Eire.” At the very least, it might force people to think about what exactly they agreed to in the Good Friday Agreement. For my own purposes, I’d prefer to call the 26 counties “the Republic of Ireland”, although this can be clumsy. And if anyone wants to talk about “Ulster”, Clones, Kilnaleck, Letterkenny etc better be in it.


Richard 07.13.06 at 12:15 pm

Funny… most of the people I know who are guilty of using “England” to refer to the UK or GB (ambiguously) are English – myself included – not (North) American.

I’ve also come across some anger from Brazilians regarding the use of “America” to refer to the USA: somehow they feel that Central and South America are slighted by this.

BTW, many parts of the UK have odd statuses: I come from Cornwall, which nurses a separate regional identity as something other than England, even though it lacks the honour of ‘separate kingdom’ status. Historically, this has translated into its being ignored as though it were Wales, or overseas,* but not acknowledged with a separate football team. I can’t speak for folks from the Isle of Man, but I understand their situation is quite a bit stranger, and that they have the unique distinction of being British, but not being entitled to work in Europe.

* I understand the EU has been doing its best not to ignore Cornwall recently, mostly by enriching Londoners with funding schemes which have debatable value for the locals. Plus ca change…


robert the red 07.13.06 at 12:26 pm

So there is no good non-self-conscious way to refer to that place over there, almost-but-not-quite in Europe?

Can’t say ‘England’.
Can’t say ‘Britain’.
Can’t say ‘UK’.
Can’t say ‘United Kingdom’.
Can’t say ‘GB’.
Can’t say ‘UKGBNI’ (although trying to pronounce it is fun).


Steve LaBonne 07.13.06 at 12:35 pm

There’s also a London. Ohio, an even less rewarding place to spend a weekend than the one in Ontario.


Brian 07.13.06 at 12:48 pm

Do let’s start on “the British Isles”! It’s lousy, but what else to use? As an Irish person, once long resident in England, now long resident in the US, I frequently need a term to refer to elements of the broadly common culture of the two islands. I don’t mean big ticket Cultural or Political Identity, just the uncontroversially-shared Lebenswelt, at least when compared to the world outside, in particular the US. What name do you give archipelago-specific dialect (’what time do you make it?’/’take the piss’ etc. etc.) or culture (drinking habits being the obvious)? There is always “British and Irish”, as used for (rugby) Lions, various poetry festivals, etc., but it’s a bit… awkward.


Randy Paul 07.13.06 at 12:49 pm

Well if you stuck to one football team for the UK that would help.


Matt 07.13.06 at 12:55 pm

Is “London, England” that much worse than “New York, New York” or “Seattle, Washington”? I know they are not exactly equivalent, but surely “London, England” is accurate- it’s not as if people were saying “Dublin, England” or even “Glasgow, England”.


Andrew 07.13.06 at 12:59 pm

It’s also annoying when the hyper-correctionism kicks in. I was watching the world cup at work and the (american) guy next to me kept saying ‘UK’ refering to England.


Alex Higgins 07.13.06 at 1:04 pm

Part of the problem is that the legitimacy of the United Kingdom itself is challenged from a number of quarters (and i happen to agree with some of them).

‘The UK’ is not really very now, unless we regard say, the relic of British rule in Ireland and the monarchy as such, which of course, is what United Kingdom refers to. Mind you there are few things less now than republicanism or Irish reunification, but lefty hopefuls such as myself find the discomfort of being told that every time you say what country you live in sort of awkward.

The national title is kind of a billboard for our mediaeval constitution and gruesome local history. A bit embarrassing really.

I tend to talk about myself as living in England, partly out of sympathy with Scottish and Irish nationalism, reserving ‘Britain’ for the sort of specific political uses Maria mentions in her post. The sort of strained liberal conscience thing that most people will find contemptible, but there you have it.

The national title becomes even more difficult in Northern Ireland of course, because there is no non-sectarian name for those six counties.

My grandfather’s generation on my Dad’s side would have called them simply and accurately “British-Occupied North-East Ireland”, thus turning their country’s name into a brief polemic.

Unionists generally refer to the state as Ulster or feel comfortable with Northern Ireland, while nationalists have tried ‘North of Ireland’ and the ‘Six Counties’, while Republicans have used angry descriptions like the ‘Orange State’.


Per 07.13.06 at 1:08 pm

“Saying ‘England’ when you mean ‘Britain’ is gauche and annoying and very, very blonde.”

Ah, but these are newfangled ideas. A J P Taylor pointed out in his English History 1914-1945 that ‘Britain’ was “the name of a Roman province which perished in the fifth century which included none of Scotland nor, indeed, all of England”, and moreover:

[Previously ‘England’] meant indiscriminantly ‘England and Wales’; Great Britain; the United Kingdom; and even the British Empire … Bonar Law, a Scotch Canadian, was not ashamed to describe himself as ‘Prime Minister of England’, as Disraeli, a Jew by birth, had done before him … The use of ‘England’ except for a geographic area brings protests, especially from the Scotch. They seek to impose ‘Britain’ — the name of a Roman province which perished in the fifth century and which included none of Scotland nor, indeed, all of England … ‘Great Britain’ is correct and has been since 1707. It is not, however, synonymous with the United Kingdom, as the Scotch, forgetting the Irish (or, since 1922, the Northern Irish), seem to think. Again, the United Kingdom does not cover the Commonwealth, the colonial empire, or India. Whatever word we use lands us in a tangle.’

And for those riled by the use of ‘Scotch’, he went on to say:

The inhabitants of Scotland now call themselves ‘Scots’ and their affairs ‘Scottish’. They are entitled to do so. The English word for both is ‘Scotch’, just as we call les francaise the French, and Deutschland Germany. Being English, I use it.

It may be annoying, and some might call it gauche — but it sure ain’t blonde.


Andrew 07.13.06 at 1:23 pm

Wow, did I really write ‘American guy”? I’ve been a US citizen for 15 years, but I’m now finally American.


Cheryl Morgan 07.13.06 at 1:43 pm

I have occasionally taken to referring to the USA as “Texas”. I find that my Californian friends get the message quite quickly.


Jon 07.13.06 at 1:53 pm

Well, Canada is part of America. As is Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and so on…

Yes, I know that that’s not what, say, the Guardian had in mind when calling Naomi Klein “American,” but the appropriation of the term “America” for one country within the Americas is simply another instance of linguistic appropriation.


paul 07.13.06 at 2:10 pm

Sign me up as an EU-passport carrying person of English birth who uses England as opposed to the UK or Britain. I’ve heard people tell me they were going to Britain for vacation and it makes me cringe. Not so much as when I hear Ireland tagged as a “British Isle” though . . .  

Why can’t English people call their patch, exclusive of Wales and Scotland, England? If anyone asks me where I was born, I don’t answer “Great Britain” (what’s so great about it?) or “The United Kingdom” (United? What’s Plaid Cymru’s take on that?). I think the “nails on a chalkboard” irritation is a self-inflicted, um, wound.


Brian 07.13.06 at 2:17 pm

As Californians, aren’t friends from California “California friends”?


Wrenkin 07.13.06 at 2:27 pm

So what should I, as an Ontarian who has friends in the nearby London, say when I mean the other London?


Andy 07.13.06 at 2:35 pm

At the risk of seeming overly pernickety, the Lake District is in England, albeit right up on the northern edge of it.


des von bladet 07.13.06 at 2:44 pm

The Olympic team is specifically and officially _GB_ish on account of the bi-eligibility of Northern Irish athletes for that or the Irish team, at their personal discretion.

For pedants, there is also the EnglandandWales cricket team (distinct from the Scottish one, which isn’t especially good), and of course EnglandandWales also has a quite different legal system from Scotland.

I once irritated my Zwedish teacher by demanding a more accurate translation of “UK” than “Storbrittanien” (lit. “Great Britain”), and that was long before I expatriated. Dutchpersons call my native nation-state “Engeland” at least as often as not, but my compatriates (and others) call their country “Holland”, so it’s probably even. (I live in Groningen, which is a long way from North or South Holland, and my zweetie is a regionaliste geographer, so I am pretty much obliged to call it “the Netherlands”.)


Uncle Kvetch 07.13.06 at 2:46 pm

the appropriation of the term “America” for one country within the Americas is simply another instance of linguistic appropriation.

While in grad school I encountered an academic writer who used the term “unitedstatesian” rather than “American” as a descriptive term referring to the US. Rather unwieldy, but it did get the point across.


Richard 07.13.06 at 2:49 pm

A friend of mine uses “Disunited Queendom;” it’s an irritating affectation, but it gets the idea across.

I guess we’re not talking about nationalism and the nation state here (the confused nature of which leads directly to the confusion over terms) because we don’t want to break the polite tone.

for myself, I like the slipperiness and indefinability of the thing – it’s never quite categorisable as anything: it’s not quite the whole archipelago, not quite a republic (and not really a sincere monarchy), not quite in Europe, not quite a state of the USA (despite having a subservient foreign policy), not quite atheist and not quite religious, not quite expensive enough to force mass emigration… not quite (I contend) a nation.

As someone who feels, at best, ambivalent about all those things, I revel in being not quite included.


Jasper Milvain 07.13.06 at 4:09 pm

Three disconnected observations:

Inside certain Scottish newspaper offices, you can also come across “Englandshire”, a place where political and legal stories happen that do not affect Scotland. It generally includes Wales.

The only time I was in Canada, I was disconcerted to hear Canadians using “America” to mean the US, and “North America” to mean the US and them. I have felt slightly less bad about fuzzy British usage of “America” since.

London, England, does sound odd to me, because it’s a more-than-English capital, and a world city. Nottingham, England, on the other hand, is where I’m from, as well as what it says on the front of my bicycle.


Dell Adams 07.13.06 at 4:35 pm

Tom Nairn at one point in The Enchanted Glass adopted the usage “Ukanian”. I could see that leading to some confusion these days, though, especially at the World Cup.


Jon 07.13.06 at 4:59 pm

The Lake District is hardly on the edge; there’s a fair amount of England above it before you hit Scotland.

Meanwhile, I always forget whether Guernsey et. al. are supposed to be part of either the UK or the “British Isles.” And the Isle of Man?

Meanwhile, I quite like Richard’s point (post 23) that of course none of these names are ever quite going to be accurate. And we’re all hybrid in one way or another.

But there are ways of naming that don’t need to be too awkward but that respect aspects of sensibility and history. For instance, rather than “unitedstatesian,” you can usually just use “US”: the US state, US culture, whatever. Same with “UK” where necessary.


Tracy W 07.13.06 at 5:04 pm

But that is no excuse to toss your hair and talk about your summer holidays in ‘England’ where you also took in the Lake District.

If the Lakes District is not in England, then where is it?


A-ro 07.13.06 at 5:05 pm

Since the ‘UK’ isn’t actually a monarchy any more, you should obviously switch to “The British Republic of Wales, Northern Ireland, England, and Scotland.”

(abbreviation: “BRoWNIES”).

P.S. I was “this close” to spelling Wales with an “h”. Yes, I am American; why do you ask?


Christopher M 07.13.06 at 5:15 pm

While in grad school I encountered an academic writer who used the term “unitedstatesian” rather than “American” as a descriptive term referring to the US.

Italian actually has a word statunitense. (And French has états-unien, but I think that’s quite a bit less common than the Italian equivalent, which is itself way less common than americano.)

Also: referring to the “United States” (in English or any other language) solves one problem of linguistic hegemony, but arguably raises another, as our friends down in the Estados Unidos Mexicanos might point out.


Christopher M 07.13.06 at 5:21 pm

Another interesting usage is referring to the U.S.A. as “the States.” I’ve only ever heard it from (1) Europeans (possibly Australians as well, though I’m not sure about that), and (2) culturally elite Americans who pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism.


tom @whimsley 07.13.06 at 5:43 pm

So I have to mention Berwick Upon Tweed; still holding back the Russians after all these years.

As they say at http://www.thenortheast.fsnet.co.uk/BerwickuponTweed.htm

“It is hardly surprising that given Berwick’s curious Anglo Scotish location, the local residents tend to regard themselves as independent `Tweedsiders’ or `Berwickers’ rather than English or Scottish. In fact until the Reform Act of 1885 Berwick did have a considerable degree of independence with the status of a `Free Burgh’ meaning that it had to be mentioned seperately in Acts of Parliament.

Berwick’s status was such that even the Crimean War had to be declared in the name of Great Britain, Ireland and Berwick Upon Tweed. Strangely after this war, when the peace treaty was signed Berwick’s name was omitted and for many years the town was said to be technically still at war with the Russians.”


J. Goard 07.13.06 at 5:55 pm

We wouldn’t have the problem with the word “America” if the United “States” (i.e., nations) of America was still anything like what it was intended to be and optimally designed to function as: something a lot like what the EU will be once its major wrinkles get ironed out. I’m more than happy to identify myself to the world as a Californian. Sometimes I really feel like adding “Northern”, but I rarely go so far.


nick s 07.13.06 at 6:25 pm

And, sorry, but Americans are the worst offenders.

When getting my immigration biometrics done — always pleasant to be fingerprinted by the American government — I had ‘UK’ scrubbed from my form and replaced with ‘England’: apparently Ukraine has the right to ‘UK’ as a country code in the database, leaving the Brits with ‘EN’. As I noted to the person in charge, that’s going to piss off the Celts something rotten.

Anyway, Linda Colley’s Britons is the canonical work on the formation of a distinctive British identity in the 18th century to cope with a twice-imported monarchy and merged parliaments. The idea that one can be British without being ‘ethnically’ English, Scottish, Welsh or Nor’nIrish isn’t a new one.

(The real nails-on-blackboard thing is Americans who don’t understand that it’s not ‘Sir Branson’ or ‘Sir Jagger’ when trying to talk to a knight.)


nick s 07.13.06 at 6:31 pm

And ‘England’ for ‘Britain’ isn’t as bad as English-speakers who use ‘Eire’ for the Irish Republic. Say ‘Ireland’, you pretentious bastard.


etat 07.13.06 at 7:22 pm

Nice point, Jon (in #16). I am sure it would do some good to refer to the citizens of Mexico as Americans, along with being a lot of fun to watch when certain people north of the border try to square that with a generally anti-immigrant stance.

Christopher M, I say ‘the states’ because that’s what people around me use. And I’m not in London, but in one of England’s rather less pretentious urban conglomerations.

And I’m glad that I’m not the only one who spotted Maria’s faux pas about the Lake District. Perhaps she means the Highlands. Or a different Lake District.


Randy Paul 07.13.06 at 7:23 pm

Estadosunidense in Spanish and Portuguese, but norteamericano usually does the trick.


serial catowner 07.13.06 at 7:30 pm

And whose fault would it be if the inhabitants of England, Scotland, Wales, the Duchy of Cornwall, the Isle of Manx, Eire, etc etc etc have not agreed upon a common appellation that others can apply upon them?

In America it’s simple- we’re Americans, and they’re not, they are Canadians, because they are British.

Honestly, does the rule of the Queen mean nothing now?


John Quiggin 07.13.06 at 7:56 pm

The whole “London, England” locution is striking to a non-US English speaker. It seems to be an extension of the routine habit of describing US states by name and state as in “Denver, Colorado”, which is I supposed justified by the frequency with which names are repeated. Springfield, anyone?


Cala 07.13.06 at 8:18 pm

‘The States’ is something I often hear from Canadian friends. ‘Unitedstatesians’ always just strikes me as dumb, no matter how well intentioned. It’s not our fault part of the name of the continent and the country overlap.

Plus, the United States of Mexico. How arrogant, to assume we’re the only united states. There are Germanic regions other than Germany. Bundesrepubliker now? Dominionites? Kingdomites?


Christopher M 07.13.06 at 8:31 pm

Etat — yeah, I have the idea that “the States” is very common among English-speaking Europeans of all sorts. My point was just that you virtually never hear it from natives of the U.S.A., except among those (generally social elites) who have a lot of contact with Europeans.

Cala – you’re right that Canadians say “the States” too. I wonder how old this usage is?


Errol 07.13.06 at 8:38 pm

As a NZer who spent 5 years in the UK, I use and hear ‘the States’ or ‘the US’ quite often, especially when wanting to concisely distinguish from Canada.
‘Yank’ is common to refer to any USAians, but is more likely to be avoided if the subject is obviously Southern. ‘Yankee’ would generally be a rare deliberate reference to a non-modern-era Northerner.


Dan Kervick 07.13.06 at 8:38 pm

I’ve also come across some anger from Brazilians regarding the use of “America” to refer to the USA: somehow they feel that Central and South America are slighted by this.

Same in Puerto Rico, where my wife is from. I think this complaint is common throughout Latin America.

Interestingly, Puerto Ricans often use the term “norteamericanos” to refer exclusively to residents of the United States, thus ignoring Canadians and Mexicans.


Cala 07.13.06 at 8:38 pm

No clue. Seems to be common though among Canadians of all ages. That said, the adjective for a citizen of the States is ‘American’, even from Canadians. But Americans don’t come from America, they come from the States.


Mary Kay 07.13.06 at 9:37 pm

As a datapoint, I say UK and I’m not an expat of any sort. I am a native of the US. In one of the Usenet groups I frequented these were the generally used terms — it was a mixed group. It also led to formations like UKian and USian. Or when we were being sillier than usual, right pondian and left pondian.



JR 07.13.06 at 10:00 pm

American expats of all economic and social classes routinely say “the States.” American military say “stateside.”

Latin Americans say “norteamericano” to mean Americans and Canadians. They also say “centroamericano” and “sudamericano.” Mexico doesn’t seem to fall into any of these categories.

In Europe, any American is a Yankee. In the American South, any Northerner is a Yankee. In the North, any New Englander is a Yankee. In New England, you have to be descended from 17th century English settlers to be a Yankee.


Dan Goodman 07.13.06 at 10:25 pm

In discussing science fiction and futurology, I sometimes refer to the confidence of 1950s British sf writers that England would continue to be a major power on Earth (and become one in space).

In that context, I use “England” rather than “UK” because that’s what those writers had in mind. If someone had reminded them, they would probably have agreed that Scotland and Wales existed — just as educated Americans and Canadians realize that some small North American islands are French territory.

Going a bit earlier: In George Orwell’s essay “England, My England” I don’t recall any mention of other places in Great Britain or associated islands.


Brett 07.14.06 at 12:43 am

It is true that here in Australia, “the States” is often used to refer to that place Yanks come from (I have done so myself). Which is a bit confusing when you think about it, because we have states here too. Luckily, most people probably don’t actually think about it.

Britain is mostly called “the UK” or “England”, I guess. I’m in the habit of calling it Britain, because I’m a British historian. Well, I’m an Australian historian of Britain then …


no one 07.14.06 at 2:36 am

Just in relation to AJP Taylor’s comment about being ‘scotch’ and his understanding of the history of ‘the British Isles’ (comment 13):

Actually JGA Pocock (a NZer) published a response to Taylor’s approach to British history around the same time. Basically, Pocock said that the problem with Taylor’s view was that he entirely ignored that the history of ‘Britain’ could be seen as the interactions between 4 nations: it wasn’t just the English who had a part in this history. So for instance, to focus on the English in writing a history of the civil war in the mid-17th century might ignore the interaction between the various nations (particularly the relationship between the English and Scots), and that the outcome of that war was not simply a result of what the English did.

Actually (and here I’m talking off the cuff because I read his piece ages ago) Pocock speculated that there could be a history (or histories) of the ‘British archipelago’ (or was it the British Islands?), which would be a history of the relationship between the British Isles (and the nations within them), the former American colonies–ie., the US and Canada, and even Australia and New Zealand. This would recognise that all of these countries were the product of highly complex relationships.

Pocock’s piece itself was perhaps a reaction to the entry of the UK into the EEC, which effectively cut NZ out of British history (whereas before, NZ could be still seen to have a part in ‘British’ history, and Britain could still be seen to have a part in NZ history).

But his argument was not an attempt to maintain any link between these former colonies of the British Isles, and insist they were all *still* ‘British’ (Pocock’s a staunch NZer)–but rather to complicate the writing of history of these former colonies, and to de-anglicise ‘British’ history. It’s worth noting that Pocock’s approach wouldn’t make the British Isles the ‘centre’ because the British Isles themselves were constituted by the interaction between itself and its (former) colonies.

*sigh* I probably need to get out more. Giving such a long response to an off the cuff comment is the symptom of someone who’s been a graduate student for too long.


Backpacker Muncher 07.14.06 at 2:36 am

The Associated Press covers all of this in excruciating detail, for anyone who wants to write using these terms. My copy is not at hand at the moment, so this is just memory speaking. The United Kingdom is generally the proper first reference, with Britain being acceptable in second and subsequent. London stands on its own, if it is the one on the Thames. Individual bits of the United Kingdom are identified separately, when relevant.

Unless you’re writing formally, though, I don’t see any great need for uniform usage. Attempts to impose such often lead to more silliness. For instance, German books are often translated “aus dem Amerikanischen,” while people from, say, London, Ohio, are called “US-Amerikaner” because one wouldn’t want to imply that other people from the American continent (they seem only to have the one, while we have North and South) are not also “Amerikaner.” What that says about translating from the “Amerikanischen” I leave as an exercise to readers. We can also get exercised about what Joyce was translated from. The English? The Irish? The temporarily-living-in-Triestish? Although if you’re translating Joyce, that is probably the least of your difficulties.

Just as Germans are likely to forget the United States of Mexico when they speak of the “Vereinigten Staaten,” they are often prone to overlook the fact that their neighbors in Austria are also a “Bundesrepublik” and will speak of “die Bundesrepublik” as if it were the only one. Should I get grief for speaking about “Amerikaner” rather than “US-Amerikaner,” I think I will start asking what the capital of the Federal Republic is, and woe if the answer is not Vienna…


britta 07.14.06 at 2:48 am

As an American, I once refered to some English friends as ‘British’ and they took great offense at the term, telling me that if something is specifically from England it should be referred to as such and never with the catch-all term ‘British.’
Interestingly, the term for UK in Chinese is ‘ying guo’ which is a phonetic approximation of ‘England’. The word for England specifically is ‘ying ge lan,’ a much closer approximation. (Scotland is ‘su ke lan’, Wales is ‘wei er shi’ and Northern Ireland is ‘bei ai er lan’). But basically, a fairly literal translation of the Chinese ‘UK’ would be ‘land of England’.


chris y 07.14.06 at 2:53 am

UK and US are both perfectly acceptable adjectives, which I tend to use as default. The problem only arises with the derived noun. As a rule of thumb, if I know the person’s preferred identity I use it (my brother in law is a Welshman but my neighbours are British), but I’m impatient with people who make a scene about it. Did you expect them to set up a sub-committee in 1707 (or 1775) to rule on all the contingencies?


no one 07.14.06 at 3:07 am

whoops–long story short: I think Pocock’s point was to presume ‘British’ history is simply English history (as AJP Taylor did) to ignore that many associations have, at one time or other, considered themselves British or of the British world–NZers, Australians, those from the North American continent and so forth. The English have no exclusive possession of this name. The term ‘British’ has a history itself which must be taken into account; to refer to what ‘Britain’ meant originally isn’t an answer.


Nick 07.14.06 at 3:33 am

I’ve always wondered why tourists refer to ‘the English Lake District’, given that Cumbria is certainly the least English part of England (& the only part never subsumed into an Anglo-Saxon kingdom). Presumably it’s originally a Victorian usage to distinguish from holidaymakers who went to the Italian Lake District . . .


Saint Fnordius 07.14.06 at 3:53 am

The idea of naming the state after the name of the city is uniquely US-American. I’ve noticed that since I moved to Germany.

What European towns do, though, is refer to themselves by their relation to some geographical landmark, mst often a river. Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Hof/Saale, Stratford-upon-Avon and so on. I suppose this is because political borders aren’t seen as being all that stable: Hof is now in the German state of Bavaria, but it used to belong to a slew of different counts and feifdoms.

As far as the whole UK/GB/England issue goes, I think the internet is deciding this one for us, with the .uk top level domain beating out the unused .gb or the Olypic Country Code GBR for mindshare.

My suggestion: it’s UK for the political thingy, Great Britain for the island thingy, and England for the ethnic thingy. A little confusing, but it adds context.


Tim Worstall 07.14.06 at 3:59 am

England is England, England plus Wales is Britain, Britain plus Scotland is Great Britain, add the six counties of NI (or Ulster to choice) to get the UK.

Above that, geographical terms like “The British Isles ” include Eire and the Isle of Man and so on.

The Cornish? Certainly their performances over the years in the county rugby championship were marked by a distinct “us” against those English bastards….all of them.


Daniel 07.14.06 at 4:56 am

I’ve also come across some anger from Brazilians regarding the use of “America” to refer to the USA: somehow they feel that Central and South America are slighted by this.

Hilariously I once heard this diatribe coming from someone coming from a small country which calls its citizens “Ecuadoreans”, as if nobody else lives on the equator.


astrongmaybe 07.14.06 at 5:36 am

The Archipelago Formerly Known as British? Thus AFKAB, Afkabian, inter-Afkabian affairs, the Afkabian diaspora.


Alan Peakall 07.14.06 at 6:06 am

Tim @ 55,

Are you sure that “The British Isles” is merely a geographic term? If you take a look at the IONA (Isles of the North Atlantic) edit trail at Wikipedia you will discover that there are people who have the same difficulty in accepting that the Irish Republic is in the British Isles that the Pizza Warriors had in accepting that Israel is in Palestine.


EWI 07.14.06 at 6:45 am

England has never held the presidency of the EU, or hosted the G8, or invaded a country on its own (at least not in a few hundred years), because it’s not a state.

Personally, I’ve always had a preference for referring to the UK as “Greater England” if we’re to be precise as to how it came into being :-)


chris y 07.14.06 at 7:13 am

Personally, I’ve always had a preference for referring to the UK as “Greater England” if we’re to be precise as to how it came into being

Great! Can we start referring to the Americas, Australia and New Zealand as Greater Europe too, then? I know some US bloggers who would be so thrilled…


dave heasman 07.14.06 at 7:45 am

Christopher M : –

“Another interesting usage is referring to the U.S.A. as “the States.” I’ve only ever heard it from (1) Europeans (possibly Australians as well, though I’m not sure about that), and (2) culturally elite Americans who pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism.”

The Cadets :-
“Meanwhile, back in the States…”
from “Standed in the Jungle” 1956.


dave heasman 07.14.06 at 7:45 am

Christopher M : –

“Another interesting usage is referring to the U.S.A. as “the States.” I’ve only ever heard it from (1) Europeans (possibly Australians as well, though I’m not sure about that), and (2) culturally elite Americans who pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism.”

The Cadets :-
“Meanwhile, back in the States…”
from “Standed in the Jungle” 1956.


Richard J 07.14.06 at 8:30 am

The Channel Islands are British, but not part of the UK. In tax work, this is a rather critical distinction…


chris y 07.14.06 at 8:50 am

Mexico may be Estados Unidos Mexicanos (as Brazil is Estados Unidos no Brasil), but if you put EE UU on a postcard from Spain, it goes to the USA, every time.


Richard 07.14.06 at 10:22 am

re: 32. [USA originally intended to be] “something a lot like what the EU will be once its major wrinkles get ironed out”

– I’d love to know what this is: right now the way forward seems cloudier to me than, say, 10 years ago.

28. “the ‘UK’ isn’t actually a monarchy any more”

– this is news to me (although it’s always possible: I haven’t been paying close attention to royal affairs lately). My understanding is that it’s a ‘constitutional’ monarchy, although I’m not aware of any document of constitution, as such, laying out exactly what the nature of the state is and where its powers derive from.


Richard 07.14.06 at 10:33 am

The unmarked nature of THE United States of America probably didn’t seem so strange back in the late 1700s, when I imagine it was the only non-colonial independent nation state on the continent. If it were being formed now, I suppose the name would seem a bit, erm, arrogant.

United Kingdom, though – I’ve never thought before what a strange formulation it is; describing something that has been united out of separate elements, rather than being simply unitary, like the kingdoms of Bhutan or Spain. Is/was it really unique in being so united – are the Welsh more of an entity than the Catalans (or the Basques)? Why this lumpy stew of a state, rather than the smooth puree of France? A great many republics are younger, are composed of more diverse ingredients, and yet assert a unitary nationhood, why not the Western Isles? I wonder what Stephen Poole would have to say about it.


Stuart 07.14.06 at 11:05 am

Hmmmmm, my recollection is that the Lake District is in England, just south of the Scottish border.


Richard 07.14.06 at 12:13 pm

oops. Please ignore my asinine musings in 65, above: I just remembered that the act of uniting that UK refers to is specifically to do with Northern Ireland (and has nothing to do with Wales or Scotland, which are already folded into GB).

Sorry about that. In some ways the question still stands.


LowLife 07.14.06 at 12:41 pm

It all seems very complicated and based on history and an almost foreign language and we Americans aren’t good at either, excepting a few pedants who just annoy everybody. Now, I can be annoying in that way, myself, and I’ve been to England but not Scotland, not Wales, not Ulster and not the Isle of Wright nor of Man and I found London to be there. I do confess to some ignorance as to why the Queen’s image is on Canadian money, what your country (whatever its called) has currently to do with Australia or India and if it runs any major city-states in eastern Asia.

I understand that somebody, possibly an authorized government body, put it out that your neck of the woods be referred to as Great Britain in 1707 or so. That’s when your neck of the woods included my neck of the woods. That particular inclusion ended later that century so I suppose your place became Lesser Great Britain though no act of Parliment declared it so.

Though I was only in England it seemed awful Great to me, and certainly British, so it shouldn’t be difficult for me to adjust my language to avoid offending you and any other Brits in earshot. BTW, is it OK to call you “Brits”?


Richard 07.14.06 at 1:20 pm

No. Please absolutely do not ever use the words “Brit” or “Brits.” “British” is good and accurate, but calling a British person a Brit would be like calling a US American a “Mick,” and is about as welcome as “Limey.”

Of course, others may differ on this.

It’s also a term for floating plankton.


LowLife 07.14.06 at 1:53 pm

I should never wish to refer to any Britain (now I’ve probably done it again. The Britain is a person who lived in the areas now being discussed in ancient times, being since added to by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Normans. I can’t say British as it’s an adjective but to say Britain doesn’t seem fair to all the others) as a floating plankton. The British (I take this word to mean those like the Britains) seemed free to call me a Yank (which I took to be short for Yankee though I was a Detroit Tiger fan) and I in no way discouraged that. Perhaps I should have but – why?

Anyway, Mick is what we Americans used to call the Irish a long time ago when, for esoteric reasons, we didn’t fancy them. I don’t know why any American would object to be called one as we can’t seem to get enough of the Irish nowadays. And who uses the word limey anymore?


valerie 07.14.06 at 1:57 pm

I’m always intrigued by the insistence that British people put upon the “share history” of Britain and the US.

It’s a bit irritating to those of us like me who grew up in places like California that were never part of the British empire.

In fact most Americans live in places that were never part of the British Empire. Hell most Americans aren’t of British descent to begin with.


Scroop Moth 07.14.06 at 2:00 pm

Be it ever so rarely named, there’ll always be an England. And what a wonderful name it is, especially from the perspective of a citizen of a country that has no name. “The USA” actually denotes the absence of anything more than the collection of its parts. Ironically, we are a nation full of fantastic place names, yet lack what every other country has, that name above all names. For this deficiency the world holds us in contempt. I’ve been mortified to learn, for example, that we are hideously called by the adjective “estadounidense”, as in “el dólar estadounidense.” “Unitedstatesians,” alas. It’s fine for Mexicans to call themselves “Los Estados Unidos” because they can add the splendid modifier “Mexicanos.” But “America” means nothing whatsoever but a misnomer. By the way, Mexico is quite analagous to England in that Mexico is actually but one place (now State and contiguous federal district) and historical people of that country. When you say “Mexico” there, you refrer to the State of Mexico and to the federal district.


cd 07.14.06 at 2:46 pm

RE #55

#55 proposes that “Britain” = England + Wales, and “Great Britain” = England + Wales + Scotland.

Is this right? My understanding is that “Britain” = the island comprising England, Wales, AND Scotland, while “Great Britain” = the island of Britain plus various smaller nearby islands, e.g. the Isle of Wight, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, etc. (but NOT the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, which are not part of the UK, I believe).

Can anyone else confirm this?


Christopher M 07.14.06 at 3:30 pm

Personally I like to cut this newfangled crap and just go with “Albion.”


bridget 07.14.06 at 3:41 pm

If the U.S. had a more specific name, it would be “Columbia”. Columbia is the symbol, or personification, of America (see the Columbia pictures logo – that would be her, as well as some fabulous statues around the country – I especially like the one that’s part of Pres McKinley(I think)’s statue in Golden Gate Park. She is more commonly known today as “Lady Liberty”. Then, allathesudden, a country south of us liked the name Columbia enough for their country and went and called themselves Columbians before we could say Amazondotcom. We missed our chance. Perhaps we could be Chrisopherians? Vespuccians?


Jacob Christensen 07.14.06 at 4:05 pm

#72: Wikipedia has “Great Britain” (as a geographical term) is the largest and most populous island of the archipelago (Entry in Wikipedia: British Isles – Terminology. As I recall it, the “Great” in Great Britain comes as a reference to “Little” Britain or Brittany. Or Bretagne, if you want it in French.

In any event: To foreigners the UK has always been a bit of a constitutional mess (I suppose that you may call this a typical English understatement).

One the one hand, it has traditionally been one of the most centralised European (sic!) countries being run from London, England.

On the other hand Scotland, Wales and (Northern) Ireland have not only had separate regional/national identities – they have also even before the present round of devolution been covered by separate legislation in a number of instances.

I think it is obvious why foreigners have a hard time distinguishing English from British even if we immediately recognise the Welsh, the … ahm … Scots and the Irish. It is perhaps one of the stranger ironies of having an empire that you lose part of your identity.


Aidan Maconachy 07.14.06 at 4:15 pm

Thought provoking post Maria.

I perked up when you mentioned the N.Irish crew. Use of language in Ulster is very touchy indeed. From the Irish nationalist perspective, it is the dreaded Engerland rather than Britain that is the target. Scotland and Wales also have their own nationalists and so there is common cause against the Crown.

I was in the Slugger O’Toole blog the other day and there was a long thread underway debating the use of the term “Ulster”. It was generally agreed that Ulster approximates the celtic Ulaidh so can be regarded as a legitimate Irish term. This is not the case though with the term “Northern Ireland” which suggests British (read English) legitimacy. My Republican mates always opt instead for “the north of Ireland” which suggests a geographic entity rather a political domain.

In Ulster, the London word also comes up. Protestants generally keep “London” in Londonderry, whereas Catholics opt for “Derry”. Language does indeed have a lot of power.

I’m living in Canada now, but I have to admit to resenting the dominance of England when I was growing up in Belfast. Since you mentioned footie, it should be noted that N. Ireland put the boot to England when they played us at Windsor Park in Belfast prior to the world cup. We won 1-0 and Rooney was about ready to beat up the ref and Beckham!

Both Prods and Catholics experienced delicious schadenfreude at the dismay of the Engerlaaaaaand supporters. Its not that we don’t like you lot … just that we like to see you taking a pasting now and then :)


Ajax 07.14.06 at 6:04 pm

It is entirely typical of the constitutional mis-mash of the UK that not even the names of the constituent parts or of the whole itself are clear to its subjects. That the new wife of the heir to the throne could be given a completely new title (“Princess Consort”) as if it had always existed, is another example of this make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach.


jimbo 07.14.06 at 11:45 pm

OK, so help a bastard American out: from what I’ve been able to glean, if I want to maximally annoy people, i would call a resident of the English parts of the Briitish Isles “British” or “a Brit”, or those of Wales or Scotland “English”? Help me out, here, people, I’m planning a trip in September and want to make the worst impression possible.

(Oh, and all those non-US “Americans” can go suck it. That’s what the Monroe Doctrine was all about – we get to be Americans, and you get to have your revolutions every 30 years and rename your countries to whatever is fashionable at the time. Of course, I’m ignoring Canadians here, but then, that’s what they’re there for…)


Tim Worstall 07.15.06 at 2:56 am

#74. As far as I’m aware there is a difference between the words used for the political boundaries andthe geographic ones. I’m entirely happy to accept your meaning of Britain and Great Britain as geographic words.

But, rolling about the back of my mind is the idea that it’s Scotland that puts the “Great ” into Britain.


Michael Connolly 07.15.06 at 9:07 pm

Christopher @ 40:
I grew up in an Air Force family. We were posted to Japan in the early 60’s and all the Americans there – Army, Navy, Air Force – referred to the States as the States. That included the Texans, who tended to set the tone in the Air Force. We also used the word “stateside.” My uncle spent 20 years in Latin America working for the State Department and he also used these terms. He was never posted to Europe.

As for “England,” I have often wondered if this usage stems from the fact that Americans formed their linguistic habits with respect to the mother country prior to the Act of Union. I’m a New Englander (of mixed Scots, English, Irish, and Scandinavian parentage) – and we pretty much set the parameters for thinking and talking about these things. It has taken 20 years of conscious effort to minimize my usage of the term “England.” In the process, I noticed that I thought of Scotland and Northern Ireland as separate countries. When saying “England,” I was visualizing England and maybe Wales.

Two New England friends described hiking in the rain along Hadrian’s wall in the 70’s near the site of the last Scots-English battle and meeting an old Scot who manned a little guard house. He took them in and made a pot of tea. When he learned that they were Americans, he exclaimed, “Ah! Ye got away! Ye got away!” They understood instantly, just as I did in the telling.


EWI 07.15.06 at 9:07 pm

add the six counties of NI (or Ulster to choice) to get the UK.

There are nine counties in Ulster, not six. Get yourself an atlas!


EWI 07.15.06 at 9:09 pm

But, rolling about the back of my mind is the idea that it’s Scotland that puts the “Great ” into Britain.

Is that merely a matter of your personal opinion, or…?


Tim Worstall 07.16.06 at 4:59 am

Not my personal opinion, no, just a phrase that I’ve heard somewhere about the place as a mnemonic on what actually make up the various groupings.


Eric H 07.16.06 at 7:55 pm

Wow, that’s a lot of energy wasted worrying what you and other people call yourselves.

Estadounidense is a common term in Latin regions for UnitedStatesian, which is a silly, silly word. When the rest of the world stops calling us Americans, maybe we will, too. There isn’t a lot of ambiguity – do Brazilians really get frightened when they hear the “Death to America” chants? To be technically correct, it might have to be United States of American, which is equally silly. We used to refer to ourselves by our home state, but as the 19th and 20th centuries progressed, it became less of a federal republic and more of a unified national state despite the best intentions and efforts of the Constitutional authors.

Maria, you might be interested to know that in the Civil War, southerners referred to battles by the nearest town or city while the northerners used the nearest body of water. Today, they still don’t agree on it, if that’s any indication of how careful you might have to be when throwing that “Yankee” around. It’s always best to find out what people call themselves.


Noel Maurer 07.16.06 at 7:59 pm

Christopher M: I’d like to back up Michael Connolly, by saying that ARNG personnel sent overseas still use “the States,” as in “back in the States,” to refer to the U.S. (Regular military also use it.) So do tourists in the Caribbean and expats in Mexico, neither of whom are, in general, particularly cosmopolitan. It’s not a class thing; it’s just that “the States” is a purely geographic term. When you’re in the States, most of your references to the “United States” or “America” will refer to something other than a mere geographic expanse.

Cala: The United States of America adopted the name “United States” before the other countries of the Americas did. The other nations adopted the phrase out of admiration for the U.S. federal structure, strange as that might seem today. Only Mexico still retains the appellation. Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela have abandoned it, and there is a half-serious movement to change Mexico’s name to the simple “Mexican Republic.”

Everyone: speaking as someone who taught at a Mexican university for seven years, I can tell you that you can’t win the America/United States battle. Nobody will ever accuse you of appropriating the name of their country when you say “estadounidense” to refer to Americans; but many will laugh at you and happily talk about “americanos.” On the other hand, for every person like that, there will be another ready to express irritation at the use of the continent’s name to refer to a single country. (And yes, people do, if relatively rarely, use “América” to refer to the entire Western Hemisphere.)

Usually I’d choose to be mocked by the former group rather than have to deal with the annoying irritation of the second. After all, the name “United States of America” came about because nobody could decide what to call the new federation — viz “District of Columbia” — and the expansive language about the “independence of America” in the Articles of Confederation. It is what it is; objections from Latin Americans rarely come across as particularly serious. If the U.S. becomes less dominant (or arrogant) in the future, I’d bet good money that the whole “controversy” will quickly seem fusty and incomrehensible.

Not at all like the England/Britain/U.K. controversy at all.


vanya 07.17.06 at 8:48 am

How provincial of Maria to assume that Americans are the worst offenders. In fact Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, etc., all very commonly use “England” as the default word for the United Kingdom. Look on Google – “Londres, Angleterre” is not uncommon. It’s no different than the use of “Russia” as a synonym for the “USSR.” Technically it is of course inaccurate, but you could argue that there is a deeper truth in using “Russia” or “England” to name these countries because these words bear witness to the fact that these “Unions”, be they of kingdoms or socialist republics, are not really voluntary at all but are the product of imperial conquest by one nation of its neighbors.


brooksfoe 07.17.06 at 1:03 pm

I generally refer to the entirety of the United States as “New York”, and no one seems to object.


neil 07.17.06 at 1:44 pm

Which ‘Americans’ do you mean are the worst offenders, Maria? North Americans, Central Americans or South Americans? Or were you referring just to that oversized minority of Americans, people from the United States?

(Perhaps not. A Google search shows that “londres, inglaterra” is much more popular than “londres, reino unido”.)


musteion 07.18.06 at 9:35 am

I find all the hand-wringing and school-marming over names a little silly. You’ll never please everyone and are bound to piss of someone, sometime.

I say “the UK,” mostly out of habit, and I don’t plan to change. After all, I don’t like it when I’m called a “Yank,” either, but if I can tolerate it, the rest of the world can tolerate “UK.”

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