Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Brit

We're finally going on our honeymoon, so there will be no posts here for at least 10 days. So, here's something for you to entertain yourselves and each other with...

If you are a (native, not like me!) British citizen (or 'subject', if you prefer), would you call yourself or any one of your fellow citizens a Brit? Do you think of the noun Brit as a term used mostly by foreigners?

I've polled three people today, and these are my results so far:

Better Half says it's not a noun he'd use, but he doesn't find it offensive when foreigners use it about him. So, for him Brit is neutral and foreign. (As opposed to pom and limey, which are foreign and insulting. The former of these is fairly unknown in the US, but well-known in the Antipodes.)

The Syntactician says "I don't use it and wouldn't like to be called one because to me it conjures up ex-pats of the worst kind."

And the friend who puts a B in BOMB (she'll know what that means, at least!) says that it can be neutral or insulting, depending on the context, and 'when abroad' is a time when she'd be likely to use it.

The thing that one notices when writing a blog like this is that the AmE speakers use the term a lot more than the BrE speakers. When referring to themselves individually, of course, BrE speakers are more likely to use a more specific term, relating to their country of origin (England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland--but let's not get into the problem of whether that's British or not--it's in Greater Britain, if not Great Britain!). I suppose BrE speakers are less likely than AmE speakers to want to (or need to) generali{s/z}e about the British.

I have noticed that use of Brit as a noun modifier is more common (Brit wit, Britblogs, etc.). I'm not as interested in that. Nor is it particularly interesting that there are music awards called The Brits. No, what's interesting to me is what we call people and how they feel about it. So, native Britishers, what do you think?

80 comments:

PeteMoor said...

The first time I (a UK Citizen) heard anyone use the term Brit, on talk radio in Miami, c.1972, it sounded vaguely pejorative to me. I have since come to embrace it.

By contrast, I have never got{ten} used to Britisher, and wonder why Briton remains an orphan. Perhaps it's because it sounds too much like Britain?

But it could have been worse. As Norman Davies pointed out in "The Isles", it's fortunate that English was influenced more by the P-Celts than the Q-Celts, or maybe we'd now be called Crits, or Critters.

John Cowan said...

Or perhaps "Grits", which is a name for U.S. Southerners (their habits are called "griticisms"). This refers of course to hominy grits, coarsely ground maize served as a porridge, much eaten by grits and ex-grits (and by African Americans).

dearieme said...

Britunculi - isn't that said to be a Roman slang term for our ancestors? Wee Brits, from whom are descended we Brits.

Anne Turner said...

Maybe this is off the subject, but the occasional Brit would call me a Yank while I was traveling a few decades ago, short for Yankee I presumed, but strange and unpleasant. I didn't embrace this.

It seems a natural thing to go into finer detail of origin if talking with someone who is more familiar with the area and the geography. Therefore, I knew what state the other Americans were from. Actually I knew where the Brits were from as well, but this took a little study. (I was a volunteer on a kibbutz in the late '80s.)

marek said...

Brit sounds foreign to me - and specifically AmE foreign - it takes on an automatic US accent if I say it in my head.

I don't though regard it as pejorative (though like any group noun, it can be made to be pejorative in context). I regard it in the same category as "German" - a word I use to describe people who live in Germany, but not a word which exists in (what I call) the German language.

Harry said...

I don't use 'Brit' and to me it feels not just foreign but specifically American. I would only expect to see it in this country in a pun or a headline or a trademark, or some similar place where a degree of wordplay is normal.

I don't think of it as genuinely hostile or abusive, but when a slang term for a group of people is only used by outsiders, those being referred to are likely to be sensitive to any hint of it being pejorative, barbed, patronising or whatever. And it certainly sometimes comes across that way.

It would be convenient sometimes to have a one-word term for British people, but there isn't one that I feel comfortable using. 'Brit' is American and slangy, 'Briton' is pompous and feels Victorian and has a hint of Stonehenge about it. Perhaps we should embrace 'Pom'.

Paul said...

I just want to know what nationality to claim when I fill in the I94-W (visa waiver form) when entering the USA.

I seem to be able to offend immigration officers by putting any of British, UK or English.

Living in Scotland is also causing a further crisis of identity.

Maybe I should use Brit or Limey?

reuben said...

As a Yank living in the UK, I find it shocking that people find 'Brit' anything other than neutral. Particularly in London, where in my experience there are loads of England-born non-whites who generally don't refer to themselves as English, even though they were born in England, there is a strong need for one word referring to all people of Great Britain, but without the 'white native' undertones associated with the nations' names. 'Brit' seems to fit the bill perfectly, as, unlike pom, eg, it isn't meant as a mild insult. (Yank is usually meant as a mild, joking insult, according to every Brit I know.) And it's inclusive, in a way that 'English' currently isn't (though maybe it'll get there one day).

Of course, non-native English speakers tend to call all Brits 'English', which is rather less than an ideal solution. What do Canadians call the people of Great Britain? And why in the name of god haven't said people of Great Britain come up with a simple name that they are happy with?

Chris Applegate said...

While "Brit" is normally a neutral term, in the context of Ireland it can be used in a pejorative sense by nationalists, in reference to their opposition of the British government and army's presence in Northern Ireland (e.g. "Brits Out" graffiti). That said, on one occasion when an Irish friend talked disdainfully of the "Brits" she made it clear she used it as a term for the government & Crown, not individual British people like me. But the potential for it to be used as an insult is there.

Personally, as a British citizen, I don't like the term - not because of the connotations above but simply because it's not a very nice-sounding word - harsh sounding and you almost have to spit it out. But then again, I don't like the concept of 'British' which I regard not only as slightly artificial but as a mixed-race person I feel uneasy at the imperial connotations. It's an increasingly touchy subject - and it's now not just the Scots, Welsh and Irish who are uneasy about the concept.

David P said...

I've used the term 'Brit' to describe myself in the past, but only very occasionally. Most of the time I have used it was on American forums. It's not a term I'd use on a British forum and it does sound like an 'American' word to me.

mollymooly said...

echoing Chris Applegate: in Ireland I reckon Brit is always pejorative -- except when it's ironic banter, which relies on the underlying offensiveness. A "West Brit" is an Irish insult for an Irish person who "apes the Brits", i.e. cravenly imitates them and favours their foreign practices rather than his superior Gaelic heritage.

reuben said...

so what's a poor simple foreigner to call you people?

Nicholas said...

I would take *a lot* of convincing that Brit is not a term coined by the Provisional IRA, as in "off a Brit", an expression very familiar to me during the years I lived in the Six Counties.

Although born and bred in England, I have never actually been a Brit. I was once asked by an English squaddie whether I was not (as an Englishman too) afraid of walking down the Falls Road (the location for our 'meeting'). I said I wasn't, because I didn't wear a uniform.

I don't care if I am called a Brit, as long as I am not offed as a result...

jhm said...

As an American, I find 'Brit,' sounds, if not pejorative, not exactly respectful either. I have no problem with 'Englishman, Irishman, Welshman et alii, but I wonder how politically correct it is to use an ostensibly masculine term for a generic person, if not a female. Is 'Briton' applied to all UK citizens, or those with ties to Brittany?

I note that, as a New Englander, or Yankee, I find it vaguely irritating that an American from New York (let alone California) would be (via 'Yank') be called a Yankee. Oddly, I have no such feelings for the blanket 'Yanqui' used by the likes of Castro (even as I recognize this is meant as an epithet).

Canadian said...

I use "Brit" because I am not sure what other noun to use to refer to one or more people from Britain. I know that Britons never never shall be slaves, but somehow "Briton" doesn't sound right and I've never heard anyone else say it either. "The British" is fine when referring to the people as a whole. And it's fine as an adjective too. I don't like sexist terms like "Englishman". (Yes, I know that England is only part of Britain/UK.) I want to say "a Brit" in the same way as I would say "an American" or "a German" or "an Italian". If there's a better term, please do let me know!

Canadian said...

john cowan, here in Canada we use "Grits" to refer to members of the Liberal Party!

Dr. Tom Roche said...

We could revive 'Britisher', a standard term for the British used in early-federal America, i.e., the War of 1812 era, etc....

I had never known that 'Brits' use 'Grits' to refer to American southerners. This gets me to asking how easily a British person can differentiate various Yankee accents-- there are the stories about southerners in the US Army starting fights in WWI English pubs when having been called a 'Yank', and I assumed today's English vaguely knew better than to do that, but that Yank/ee was still more or less used for all US accents (an Aussie I know once used the strange phrase 'Southern Yankee accent'). It does seem to me, and the comments on this blog confirm it, that British folks have a hard time differentiating Yankee and Canuck accents, but are Southern ones more clearly identifiable to 'em?

Simon said...

I've never heard a Brit call a Grit a Grit...

I'm quite comfortable describing myself as a Brit, as I identify more with the UK than with one of its home nations. I can understand why those who have heard the less-friendly usage (particularly the life-threateningly unfriendly usage) might have problems with it.

"The British" is probably still the correct term, although I think most people who read this blog will know the problems this can cause regarding Northern Ireland...

Perhaps we should come up with a new name?

Simon said...

@Dr. Tom Roche: I can't speak for us all, but I can't tell the difference between northern and southern American accents - and yes, I never remember that Yank only means a northern-stater. So all Americans are Yanks, unless you're very well liked, in which case you're a septic*.

A couple of American friends have pointed out that one of the hardest things to get used to in the UK is that the more you like someone, the more you insult them- you know someone is disliked if others are polite to a fault around them!

(*Septic tank = yank, of course...)

Cameron said...

I myself am first European, second Scottish and technically British. I have EU citizenship, Scottish nationality and a British passport. There are very few people who identify themselves first as British, and most of those are English people who consider the terms "English" and "British" to be synonymous, as do most non-British people. It is all terribly complicated. When living in Munich, I came to refer to British people simply as "islanders" or "Inselaffen," which I think is a fairly neat solution, although there would be no way to pretend that "Inselaffen" (literally "island monkeys") was not pejorative.

Howard said...

Nicholas wrote:
> I would take *a lot* of convincing that Brit is not a term coined by the Provisional IRA,

Would the fact that the OED dates the word back to 1901 convince you?

-------------

As a Brit, I've no problem with being called one. Nor do I mind 'limey'. It comes, according to some accounts, from 'limejuice sailor', from the Royal Navy's custom of issuing sailors with limejuice to prevent scurvy. Since scurvy up till that point probably killed more seamen than either cannon or storm, I think it's good that such a medical break-through should be remembered in what I consider to be quite an affectionate nick-name.

ella said...

The only people I've ever heard describe themselves as 'Brits' are *those* kind of expats. I would probably use 'English', 'from the UK' or possibly 'British subject' when describing myself. 'Briton' sounds rather Col. Blimpish to me.

David said...

@jhm - it sounds like you think Yankee excludes New Yorkers. If so, you might look into the etymology. One account has it that a Dutch word, Jahnke, was used loosely to refer to farmers, hicks, hayseeds and other country brethren during the period of Dutch colonisation (Nieuw Amsterdam north through the Hudson Valley) and that the spelling was eventually Anglicised. Yankee Doodle indeed.

flashgordonnz said...

I'm a Londoner.

Actually, I'm not: I'm a Kiwi. ALso known as a sheep shagger. Affectionately, of course.

Dr. Tom Roche said...

Cockney rhyming slang is one of the quaintest features of the dialect, and a uniquely poetic trait. That said, 'septic tank' does not seem to be the high point of the thing, no. Ah well.

David gave us one possible etymology of 'Yankee', the other generally accepted possibility being that it is a native American attempt at saying 'English', in the early New England first-contact era. As to which places within the US get to use/ want to use it, it is never used of themselves by anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line, and even to say things that I have heard like a man from Idaho was a 'western Yankee' sound vaguely wrong.

James said...

Different people mean different things by "yankee". There's the old joke:

For foreigners, a "yankee" is an American. For American southerners, a "yankee" is a northerner. For northerners, a "yankee" is somebody from New England. For New Englanders, a "yankee" is somebody from Vermont. For Vermonters, a "yankee" is somebody who eats apple pie for breakfast.


(I tried to post this a few hours ago, but it apparently didn't work. Just in case it comes up twice.)

Kay said...

For New Yorkers, a "Yankee" is a baseball player. :)

martinn said...

As someone who has English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish antecedents, I've long thought of myself as British.

I'm quite happy to call myself a Brit, and I think it's down to the advent of the internet. In chat rooms, mail groups, and so on, I mix with many nationalities, and 'Brit' is simply quicker and easier to type than 'British'. And my American friends are now used to being called 'septics'.

And though legally I may be a subject, I always think of myself as a citizen.

Stephen said...

I'm a Brit and regularly use the word. It's not in the least disparaging.

It's probably associated with expats, but that's only because you're going to use the word when thinking of the British as a separate national group, which obviously is not going to happen in the UK.

It's common for Brits to talk about the Yanks. Again I would say neutral, though some may take unwarranted offense at it!ieibih

mollymooly said...

There is a difference between a "British subject" and a "British citizen": there are other classes of "British national" as well. See the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nationality_law#Classes_of_British_nationality

Lien said...

I, an American, do use the term 'Brit' to refer to a citizen of the United Kingdom. I just asked my husband (whom I refer to as The Limey) whether he used the word 'Brit' and what he thought of it. He said he wouldn't use the word himself, but also wouldn't consider it pejorative. Unless it's used by an Irish person here in Ireland, then he'd be more likely to consider it an insult. But he said he would still consider the context first.

johnb said...

Interesting. This post started out to be something different. I never realised quite how I felt until I sat down and started analysing it. In my experience - Brit is an American word. I don’t remember ever hearing it from any other nationality. I consider myself to be English, British and European in that order.

I haven’t come to embrace ‘Brit’, but I don’t see it as insulting anymore, possibly due to over exposure to the word in internet forums. A few years ago, it would have irritated me, and I would have seen it as a slightly pejorative description. In fact it still irritates me slightly.

Whoever coined Brit clearly had some idea of how they should have been referring to me - it is clearly a shortened or diminutive form of Britain, British, Briton - and the speaker couldn’t be bothered to say the whole word/phrase. That ‘can’t be bothered’ translates as a lack of respect. That lack of respect irritates me. :~)

On a personal level, I never meant any great insult by calling Americans, Yanks - but I stopped doing it when I realised that many Americans did find it irritating. And that irritates me slightly as well. I was prepared to change my word usage to avoid irritating/annoying Americans - why aren’t they prepared to moderate their word usage to stop irritating me?

I understand that it is a minor thing and that I shouldn’t be so sensitive …….

However, I was taught that to insult someone accidentally was just plain bad manners. Good communication is all about choosing words that your listener will interpret in the same way as you intend them. When speaking, it is my job to understand how my words will be understood and to choose them carefully. Therefore, if I insult someone accidentally, I have failed to communicate well.

Insulting people on purpose is a whole different ball game. :~)

Reuben Said “As a Yank living in the UK, I find it shocking that people find 'Brit' anything other than neutral.” - Well I find it absolutely shocking that anyone who reads blogs like these doesn’t realise that there are huge differences in the way that language is perceived by different people. I just hope that Reuben was trying to be ironic – no matter how badly he pulled it off.

David P said...

I consider myself to be British first, European second and English third. While I may be British and English I don't consider the two to be synonymous.

Stephen said...

---"Brit is an American word. I don’t remember ever hearing it from any other nationality"-----

I've heard it from lots of fellow Brits.

Ginger Yellow said...

I use Brit, but mostly in comments on American blogs, and I'm pretty sure that's where I picked it up. Except, as Stephen suggests, for describing "Brits abroad". Possibly because it's one of the contexts where the similarities between residents of the different parts of Britain are more evident than the differences.

flatlander said...

I might use "Brit" as shorthand but never as a formal way of identifying or introducing someone. I think I'd say "she's Canadian, he's French, and that person is from the UK," avoiding the adjectival form altogether. When I think of "Briton" I think of pre-Anglo-Saxon folk, like Boudicea.

Oh, and as a one-time Vermonter (tho not a native, hence the Google nickname), I second James' analysis of "Yankee".

Fnarf said...

I have found that the type of Brit who finds the word "Brit" offensive is exactly the kind of Brit I can't stand being around. Similarly, the kind of Yank who objects to being called a Yank by a Brit is no fun.

I have never heard a Brit call an American a Yankee; only a Yank (or a septic or my favorite, "seppo").

There is of course a huge undercurrent of resentment here. Most English Brits I've known have had at least a little sense of entitlement, of not agreeing that they are on an equal footing under the law with Scots, Welsh, Norn Irish. And of course the Scots, Welsh, and Norn Irish have their carefully-cultivated resentments too. All of these little resentments are precisely calibrated to create resentments in others. That's the British way. I suspect that the endless obsession with picking at the scabs of the Union is one reason why the UK isn't constantly bursting into flames over these ethnic differences like the former Yugoslavia. Even in Ireland, where the dispute got very hot, it's much better to see people arguing endlessly about the minutiae of this subject now, rather than using bombs and guns.

I think Reuben's point about the many non-white immigrants, or descendents of immigrants, who feel that "English" is drawing them into an argument they want no part of, in a way that "Brit" doesn't.

I also agree that the light-hearted banter over one's national origin which is such a part of British conversation can be sometimes misinterpreted. If the banter doesn't have a little sting to it, it's not as clever. And Brits are very good at being clever.

lazybrain said...

In the novel I'm reading, which is set in India, one of the characters refers to "...those bloody Brits."

This, and tabloid commentary, is how I would expect to find the word Brit used. I wouldn't use it myself, although I don't think I would be overly offended if I was called a Brit.

I tend to describe myself as British when required to (e.g. on forms) and as English otherwise. Sadly, I sometimes use 'I am English' to mean 'I only really speak English' (e.g. if struggling in France, I might say "je suis anglaise" in an apologetic way and as if that might make it ok).

I notice that there seem to be no good nouns for English, Welsh or Irish as well as British. But do Scottish people mind being called 'a Scot'? (And I know I must never say 'Scotch'!)

Anonymous said...

I laughed at James' yankee joke - but I feel obligated to point out that people in Maine definitely consider themselves yankees!! ;)

Bill said...

I would just like to say how refreshing it is to read a board talking about the differences between the US and UK that does not degenerate...
I comment on the IMDB boards a lot and if you go to any of the "British" films (Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter) it becomes horrible very quickly.
One of the things that I have come across in those posts however is the discussion of a person with a "British accent". Now that is a term you hear over here all the time.
"British" (and hence "Brit") often just becomes synonymous with English over here. Irish isn't included, nor is Scottish. And most Americans are barely aware that Wales even exists unfortunately.
So you would never hear an average American calling a Scotsman a Brit...

Cameron said...

Re Bill's point there, yes I have enormous difficulty getting Americans to understand that I am Scottish AND British, which I find odd in people who are Texan AND American or Californian AND American. But, really, it goes back to the conflation of the terms "English" and "British," as does the "British accent" thing of course. Try telling Americans that Shrek (who I sound JUST like as far as they are concerned) has a British accent...

Bill said...

I guess it comes from not really understanding that Britain actually referrs to many different countries that is the stumbling block. Unless I am mistaken, the UK is the only entity in the world (currently) that is encompassed by many different countries.
Now a person with a real understanding of American knows that indeed the US is the same (conceptually), but over the years, and with an acceptance of the "state" system as the norm people don't see it that way.
No American would say "I consider myself a Virginian, but not an American." Whereas I think (and this is a very rough guess) that you may be more inclined to meet someone who would say "I consider myself a Scotsman, but not British." (Again...a VERY rough guess)

As an aside, but along the same lines:
Does a Scottish person object to Scot the way we have heard that some object to Brit?

johnb said...

Bill Asked - "As an aside, but along the same lines:
Does a Scottish person object to Scot the way we have heard that some object to Brit?"

is that, perhaps, a bit like asking if an American would find it acceptable to be called an "Am" - the equivalent single syllable shortening of American. Maybe because the speaker couldn't be bothered to say all four syllables of the original?

Bill said...

johnb asked - "is that, perhaps, a bit like asking if an American would find it acceptable to be called an "Am" - the equivalent single syllable shortening of American. Maybe because the speaker couldn't be bothered to say all four syllables of the original?"

I don't think so...I think that it is a slight variation on Lynne's original question...but I hear Scot used much more frequently than Brit and I was simply curious if it held the same connotations that Brit does.

mollymooly said...

the UK is the only entity in the world (currently) that is encompassed by many different countries.

In order to exclude a diverse entity like India, I infer that by "country" you mean something like "a place with well-defined borders inhabited by a people with a strong sense of common nationality".

Spain has Castile, Euskadi and Catalonia, though there are probably fewer Spanish than British citizens who will both (a) agree that Spain is multi-national and (b) express content at this arrangement.

Perhaps also the United Arab Emirates [Dubai, Abu Dhabi, + 5 smallies] or the Kingdom of the Netherlands [Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba]. Don't know how strong the local patriotism is in their constituent countries.

johnb said...

Sorry Bill. Let me explain why I think there are differences.

The country is called Scotland –the land of the Scots. It is a self taken name, rather than one given them by other people. The name itself comes from the Scotii, either a celtic tribe or a roman name for the Celts that moved into the land over a thousand years ago. Those who come from the “land of the Scots” are Scots …

(But you try calling them Scotch and they will get offended)

However, Britain has a completely different meaning.

Online Etymology Dictionary -
Britain
1297, Breteyne, from O.Fr. Bretaigne, from L. Britannia, earlier Brittania, from Brittani "the Britons" (see Briton). The O.E. was Breten-lond. If there was a Celt. name for the island, it has not been recorded.


You will notice that the Old English was Bretenlond – or in modern spelling Britonland. That’s why we are called Britons :)

It doesn’t particularly upset me being called “Brit”, however it is slightly irritating. I tend to see it as a sign that the speaker probably isn’t particularly well educated. (However correct or incorrect that assumption might be)

That’s why my comparison with calling an American an ‘Am’.

England becomes interesting - I think I would probably be bemused if people started describing me as an “Eng” - and would probably find it amusing. BTW England was originally Engla land, lit. "the land of the Angles" (More from the Online Etymology Dictionary) However there is already a historical people called the Angles - so we English couldn’t claim that as a name. :)

Cameron said...

As a Scot I have no objection to being called a Scot, for all the reasons that John so eloquently explained. The problem with being called a Brit is only that most people who do so conflate it with "English," and English I am not. (Don't get me wrong, wonderful people some of them, but I am not one). You can see this again in the "British accent" thing. "Brit" also tends sometimes to be a shorthand for the lager swilling, union jack shorts wearing, lout in Ibiza; cheap, nasty nationalism of a kind which most of the rest of Europe has long since left behind and which I and many others throughout Britain abhor.

johnb said...

Thank you Cameron. I hadn't thought of the "Larger Lout" connotation - but it is certainly there.

As for countries within countries - There are few more contenders to go with mollymooly’s list. Modern Germany is a federal nation with states, such as various versions of Saxony, Bavaria etc - some of which were independent nations in their own right up until last century. France still has Normandy and Brittany (and I suspect other similar regions) - and some of their residents are fiercely patriotic to their region, whileBelgium has its Flemish and Walloon regions.

And we also need to remember that England was once sub-divided into smaller countries - Cornwall, Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria come immediately to mind (although I know there were others). Scotland had Orkney, Dalradia and the Pictish lands. In Ireland there were a number of regional kingdoms, whose kings competed for the title of High King. Wales was a whole series of small chiefdoms and principalities up until something like the 14th century.


(Sorry, European history/politics is an interest of mine)

Howard said...

There's a good account of the complexity of this question at World Wide Words.

The supposed dislike of 'Scotch' as a name or adj. for the Scottish/Scots seems to be relatively new. The OED says on this subject: "Scotch had been adopted into the northern vernacular; it is used regularly by Burns, and subsequently by Scott; still later, it appears even in official language in the title of the ‘Scotch Education Office’. Since the mid 19th c. there has been in Scotland a growing tendency to discard this form altogether, Scottish, or less frequently Scots, being substituted."

Elsewhere it quotes: "1943 Sun (Baltimore) 25 June 12/7. My father came from Invernesshire and certainly never restricted the use of Scotch to the whiskey. It is only in recent years that certain Anglo-American friends have made me feel guilty of committing a particularly bourgeois faux pas by using the word. We always looked on Scottish as rather affected, overly poetic."


johnb wrote:
>However there is already a historical people called the Angles - so we English couldn’t claim that as a name. :)

I'm puzzled here: we do claim it as a name - the word English comes from 'Angle', surely?

johnb said...

Howard said
"I'm puzzled here: we do claim it as a name - the word English comes from 'Angle', surely?"

Descendents of the Angles yes - but the term Angles is used to refer to the original Germanic tribe. "English" is a hybrid race - it includes Angle, Saxon, Danish, Norman, Celtic, Roman (although those were primarily primarily germanic)antecedents all wrapped up in one.

(That list isn't supposed to be all encompassing - just those that came to mind quickly. A mixed heritage that I am proud to carry :)

Cameron said...

Yes and the Britons were Celtic too, weren't they? Personally I think the English should all go back to Germany where they came from.

Actually I don't: I have a lot of friends in Germany. Well, in Bavaria, another Celtic country.

Howard said...

> Personally I think the English should all go back to Germany where they came from.

Are you absolutely sure you have no Teutonic ancestry of any kind, Mr Cameron? :-) Well, if you are pure Scots Celt, perhaps you ought to go back to Ireland, where your ancestors came from!

Personally, I think we should all go back to East Africa, where the earliest ancestors of us all came from! :-) :-)

Myfanwy Denman-Rees said...

I hate the term Brit. It's a harsh-sounding word and was intended to be: as far as I know, its origins lie in republican Irish hatred of the British. I know it's cool to disempower pejorative terms by embracing them (eg, gay), but it doesn't work for me. I'm too old !
(I also think it's impolite--I don't go round calling Americans Yanks or Germans Jerries.)

Cameron said...

I see Howard has grasped this, but just in case some don't, I should probably point out at this stage that when I say things like in my last post, I don't mean any of it. I kind of like being Scottish but, at the end of the day, all it means is that that is the name attached to the bit of the big rock I happened to be born on. However, there's no reason we shouldn't get some fun out of that, is there?

Howard said...

> It's a harsh-sounding word

What exactly is a harsh-sounding word? Is a harsh-sounding word likely to have less value than a soft-sounding (whatever that means)one?

> as far as I know, its origins lie in republican Irish hatred of the British.

Then, if I may suggest it, you should read the comments above with more attention. You will see that the OED records use of the word some years before the official date of the foundation of the IRA.

johnb said...

You just ignore him Myfanwy.

Howard that was a bit harsh - Lynne asked for peoples thoughts and opinions, Myfanwy gave hers as was requested.

I suspect she reads the original post and replied as requested. There is no reason for her to read every single response in here, especially as many of them (Mine included) go off on strange tangents.

Howard said...

> Howard that was a bit harsh - Lynne asked for peoples thoughts and opinions

I'm sure you're right, Johnb, and perhaps it was harsher than I intended, and if so, I apologize.

Lynne, however, is an academic, and therefore I guess that she likes best those opinions which are supported by some research. Such research, I would suggest, should include what has already been written on the subject. Not least of the advantages of this method is that it tends to prevent repetition.

johnb said...

Howard, I am not sure that is correct. Lynne (if she is interested in collecting academic data in this blog) is more likely to want raw data and interpret it for herself.

People's initial responses will give her a insight to the way that the a larger population think ATM.

Our discussions and thoughts are just fluff around the outside will likely make her smile a bit :)

lynneguist said...

I'm glad to see that my invitation to you to entertain yourselves in my absence was taken up with some relish!

What's even better is that people are arguing about interpretations of the intent and meaning of my writing, putting this blog on a par with the Bible. Wow!

(Oops, that's the kind of comment that got John Lennon in trouble.)

But to settle the argument--I asked for opinions, not research. People are welcome to say what they like here unless it's abusive to anyone...

myfanwy denman-rees said...

Thank you, Howard, for pulling me up for my lack of rigour. I plead guilty to a degree of sloppiness. I was, as johnb pointed out, replying to Lynne's original question
"If you are a (native, not like me!) British citizen (or 'subject', if you prefer), would you call yourself or any one of your fellow citizens a Brit?"
After writing my reply, but before posting it, I did read through the 50-odd previous replies and saw that my reply would overlap those of Chris Applegate (down to the 'harsh-sounding'!), mollymooly and nicholas. I also noted that most of the replies were based on 'gut-feeling' rather than research (unsurprisingly, since Lynne was asking about personal preferences). Your response to Nicholas was an obvious exception, and therein lies my sloppiness: I didn't have immediate access to the OED and should have paused to follow up your reference. Instead I assumed that what Lynne wanted was a straight response, even if [a] it repeated what had already been said and [b] the reasons for that response turn out to be based on misunderstanding, prejudice, laziness or whatever. So I posted.
Now that I have read the OED entries, I certainly accept that Brit didn't originate with the IRA, but the 'Brit's Out' slogan (greengrocers apostrophe and all) is the first usage that had any impact on me, hence the negative connotations. Incidentally, the OED quotations tend to bear out that negativity: the 1901, 1961 and 1969 are all derogatory, and the 1948 one might be (it lacks context).
"What exactly is a harsh-sounding word?" is surely a disingenuous question? With regard to the present discussion, it's a word the sound and brevity of which make it perfect for expressing contempt or hatred - cf spic, wog, dago, Yank, Hun, Paki.
This British subject will now go back to lurking in her Celtic twilight...

Jan said...

As an American (in Yankee Boston) writing a newspaper column about English usage, I have found "Brit" indispensable (though I consulted with our Irish-descended British bureau chief before using it). When the subject is the English language (and I'm not allowed to use BrE and AmE -- too technical for a general audience), "English" becomes the term for the language, naturally -- so I need a different term for the people. It's a casually written column, so "Britons" and "British" sound a bit formal (and yes, I have said "we Yanks," meaning Americans).

A more specific/accurate term is generally unnecessary for my purposes; I'm usually just pointing out to my fellow Yanks that many other English speakers, including those who gave us the language, say things differently -- and that that doesn't make them wrong.

(My fellow Americans often need this reminder -- at least the ones who go around looking for excuses to be offended at someone else's usage. Of course, this isn't just an American trait, is it?)

Jan (freeman at globe.com)

Cameron said...

Jan, you would need a different term for the people anyway, becaue "English" and "British" are NOT synonyms. There are more of us who use British English than just the English. I don't mean to sound Colonel Blimpish about this, but Americans would get rightly upset if we started calling them all Canadians on the basis that, after all, they are all in North America. Americans are not Canadians, and people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not English.

Bill said...

"Cameron said...
Jan, you would need a different term for the people anyway, becaue "English" and "British" are NOT synonyms"

But this was the point that I was making a few posts ago...to the "average" American...they ARE synonyms. Therefore, her using it plays to her audience...And I think we all know that perception plays a lot in interpretation of words...
Now this is of course not saying that it is correct, obviously. However, this particular bit of American language is a pervasive one that I don't think people from the UK really pick up on unless it is really pointed out.
To Americans, there is not a lot of time studying the differences between "The United Kingdom", "Great Britain", "Britain", and "England" Not to mention Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Another thing to consider is that if you showed most Americans an English Flag noone would know what it was...but The Union Jack is immediately recognizable.
And it is not ignorance really, becasue I, (and Jan more than likely) know the difference, yet I will routinely use the term "British Accent" knowing full well that in reality, there is no such thing.

flatlander said...

cmluCameron said...
Americans would get rightly upset if we started calling them all Canadians ...

No no, my dear. Americans would be amused (and generally complimented) by this. If you reverse it, however... oy vey!

Your American cousins are not the only ones ignorant of the UK/Britain/England distinction. I learned it years ago from an English-born university professor who admitted she only learned it during her postgraduate studies.

johnb said...

Bill Said ...
"And it is not ignorance really, becasue I, (and Jan more than likely) know the difference, yet I will routinely use the term "British Accent" knowing full well that in reality, there is no such thing. "

That just makes it worse really. Bad usage and proud of it? If ignorance isn't the excuse for that, what is?

And in Jan's case - she says she is writing a column on English usage, and then knowingly mis-uses words. I don't know her publication - but I assume with that quality of work, it must be on a par with the Sun. :)

David said...

@flatlander:
"cmluCameron said...
Americans would get rightly upset if we started calling them all Canadians ...

No no, my dear. Americans would be amused (and generally complimented) by this."

Which Americans? How do USers react to the notion that 'American' includes natives and citizens of every region from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego?

My impression is that there's a certain possessiveness about it, and that some people would be upset about having to 'dilute' the brand by extending it to natives and to speakers of languages other than English. So if the BBC started referring to peoples of the Americas as Americans, I expect there'd be complaints from the US about being lumped indistinguishably in the manner of Brit/on/s. There might also complaints from Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina & elsewhere about suddenly being saddled with some of the US's foreign policy baggage...

Bill said...

johnb said...
"Bad usage and proud of it?"

Now I never said I was proud of it...it is just part of the vernacular. Lots of terms are inaccurate when you really look at them, yet are still used in certain areas. Native Americans are still called Indians in many places and it is widely known to be thoroughly inaccurate. (Even the new museum in Washington DC which is curated by native tribes is called the Museum of the American Indian) And there are many more examples that I am sure can be examined by people who know much more about language than I do.

And to David's comment...
That is the problem with our country being named "The United States of America" Technically we should not directly be called "Americans" probably something like "Staties" or "Statesmen" would be more accurate. Which both sound silly and slightly derogatory. (Of course this is after 231 years of hearing "American.")
But the way this is "solved" is by using North American for the US, Canada and Mexico, although Mexico is often considered Central America die to it's cultural similarities with the rest of that area.

Howard said...

johnb wrote:
> And in Jan's case - she says she is writing a column on English usage, and then knowingly mis-uses words. I don't know her publication - but I assume with that quality of work, it must be on a par with the Sun.

You just ignore him, Jan! :-}

Johnb, that was a bit harsh! :-} : Jan is notable journalist on the Boston Globe, a newspaper that predates the London Sun by 92 years, and so far as I know does not sport photos of bare-breasted women on its page three.

Jan has a keen interest in the use of our language and writes intelligently and with knowledge. I commend her. See her articles, for example, here:

www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/brainiac/word/

She also gains my admiration for her coining the word 'peevologist', which she identifies in the following way:

Shouldn't those who collect language peeves, rather than studying them, have a name that reflects the irrational, obsessive side of the pursuit?

:-}

lynneguist said...

I've heard the argument that people from the USA should not be called Americans because it's the United States of America. But that argument strikes me as extremely faulty. Do we call people from the PR of China People's Republicans? Were people from the USSR Unionist Republicans? People from the Federal Republic of Brazil are not called Federal Republicans. The main name of the country is America, and it just so happens to have a lot in common with the names of two continents. But just as it doesn't make it wrong to call people from Johannesburg South Africans (even though people from Botswana and Swaziland are in the south of Africa too), the fact that there are other things with America in their names doesn't make it wrong to call people from the United States of America Americans.

Cameron said...

Well, as far as I remember, people from the USSR were known as "Soviets," which makes no sense when considering what the word soviet means in Russian (roughly, council or committee, as far as I know), but much sense when you consider how many of them were Ukrainian, Kazakh, Lithuanian etc. Same issue as calling British people "English."

Stephen said...

Here are the first fifteen hits from the British National Corpus. As you can see, only occasionally derogatory. There are 142 examples in the corpus so it is quite common on British usage.

The music is that perfect staple of pub rock, good old Brit R'n'B, which was nurtured and cultivated in Wilko's home-town of

be published next year by Bloomsbury. FACT FILE Flights: Brit Air (01-499 9511) offers daily direct services from Gatwick to

a couple of weeks later, Betty popped up on the BRIT awards. No prizes for guessing what she was wearing. The

embodiment of radiant motherhood, arrives, smiling, at the BRIT awards If you're going to have one, then have a

in question frames an elegant response: "Ferkauf, yer Brit eejut." Or words to that effect. The crestfallen minister

in a pretend chariot and Otley as Venutius, the belligerent Brit, consort of our Brigantian Queen Cartimandua. "The Celts did

about efforts like the PDQ. "If you give a Brit a couple of cans of epoxy, some bits of plywood and

and fax culture collide Florida is the place most of the Brit tourists go. Julie Moline offers a guide to its endless attractions

but selfishly draws all your regard to itself. (Brit. Birds, Vol. i p. 509)". This intrinsically

doyens of the civilized globe. These days, the average Brit's idea of a crime was a drunken assault on a Pakistan

" On the other side of the road lived another Brit I'd met in France. The house overlooked Off-the-Wall, the

pick up the linguistic and social markers that pin the native Brit down like so many Lilliputian bonds. Subtle but damning variations of

Erm … The next release from Maestro Alex Gregory, ex-pat Brit, self-styled justice commando and complete, authentic nutter is rumoured to

there are many English people who consider Hendrix an "Honourary Brit". "It was certainly in England that he made it

this poem, Angel. It's all about a crushing Brit defeat. "A hurry of hooves on the village street,

Private Beach said...

Several people have already pointed out other examples of "countries within countries", contrary to Bill's suggestion that the UK may be unique in this regard. Canada calls its native peoples "First Nations", and it is possible to be Chinese (a citizen of China) without being Chinese (of the Han race); China has many so-called "minority nationalities" such as Mongolians. Some of these, such as many Tibetans, would prefer not to be part of China at all.

The point of all this seems to be that labels for race and nationality can rarely be defined with precision, since their usage has more to do with how individuals perceive themselves than with any linguistic rules.

Rick Rutledge said...

When I started reading this post, I thought you were going to expound on the mead month (honeymoon). (So-called, I'm told, because honeyed mead was believed to be good for fertility. Though I suspect drinking mead and having lots of previously-suppressed sex played a role...)

james said...

Naming the areas of the UK and Ireland is confusing to say the least. Technicaly the Irish are Brits also as they live in the geographical region of the 'British Isles'.

Jane said...

I happily refer to myself as a Brit, in a casual context, and where that's a meaningful distinction to make. (On a forum inhabited by a mix of Americans and British, for instance, it makes it clear which of those two groups I fall in). If I wanted to get more specific, I'm English. I think of it as a casual abbreviation rather than an insulting one. I wouldn't fill it in as my nationality on a form.

Rayelle said...

Ella:

"The only people I've ever heard describe themselves as 'Brits' are *those* kind of expats."

What do you mean by "those"? I presume it's something negative, but I'm not sure what you're referring to. Personality? ??

Anonymous said...

I dislike 'Brit' for all the reasons others have given, and up until now I have always happily used 'Briton'. I had no idea that people viewed the word as pompous and Colonel-Blimpish. I may have to stop using it.

Anyhow, this whole problem may go away later this year. If the Scots vote for independence in September, Britain will cease to exist, so there will no longer be a need for a word to describe its citizens.

Grhm said...

Until I came across these comments I had no idea that using the word 'Briton' would make me sound like a pompous Colonel Blimp. Oh.

I just thought it was the correct term. I have been blithely using it all my life. I suppose I ought to stop using it now, but I don't know what word to use instead.

I agree with all the reasons others have given for disliking the word 'Brit'. 'Britisher' seems marginally better, but only very marginally. I actually think I prefer 'Pom' to either of those. It feels more natural, for all its pejorative undertones.

Perhaps, as commenter Simon suggested above, we should invent a new word.

Britainian?
Britannican?
Albionite?
Blightior?
Wescconien? (WElsh+SCots+COrnish+NIrish+ENglish)
Jeebier?
Yukaynik?

It's a puzzle, but it might not be for long.

The whole problem could go away later this year when the Scots hold their independence referendum.

If they vote 'yes' in September then Britain will cease to exist. Terms denoting a person from Britain will then be of no more than historical interest, like terms denoting people from Yugoslavia or Prussia.

Grhm said...

What on Earth happened there? I'd decided that my first, anonymous comment, which I submitted three days ago, must have got lost in the Google workings, (as sometimes happens), so I rewrote it and submitted it again. The computer then froze up and I had to switch it off at the wall. When I looked at the site again, the first, three-day-old, anonymous comment was suddenly here, but not the one I had just posted. And now they are both here, making me look rather foolish. Lynne, I'd be grateful if you would delete both this message and one of those two previous ones (either one, your choice). Thanks. Graham.

David Crosbie said...

I'm puzzled by the reference to ex-pats of the wrong kind. Expats of all kinds tend to need an identifying term to use in English speaking circles where they socialise with people from all over the world.

I'm English, but I only use the term in other parts of the UK or Ireland. Here it serves to exclude Scots etc. Other places where I've lived I've wanted to include them. As several have pointed out, in most countries it could be understood by the locals as either English or British. Briton is ridiculous and a British is what we teach foreigners not to say.

This and other forums where English speakers from all over the world hang out are just like those expatriate circles where I learnt to call myself a Brit.