The view from Dalriada

« previous post | next post »

Brendan O'Leary, "The Dalriada Document: Towards a Multinational Compromise that Respects Democratic Diversity in the United Kingdom", The Political Quarterly 10/27/2016:

Words and abbreviations matter, especially when they mislead. Brexit cannot and will not happen because ‘Britain’, a geographical expression, is not a polity, a sovereign state or a member state of the European Union, and cannot exit from any political organisation, let alone the European Union. The new Prime Minister Theresa May's early insistence that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ was not only a tautology which disguised her cabinet's indecision about what exit might mean, but was also nonsensical because the portmanteau has no political referent.

To insist that Ukexit rather than Brexit is the correct word for the phenomenon that may unfold is not pedantic or professorial quibbling. ‘Britain’ is inaccurate shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—for which more appropriate abbreviations are either the United Kingdom or the UK (UKGB & NI is an impossible mouthful). To use Brexit does verbal violence to the nature of the UK, which is a double union-state, not a British nation-state. It is tiresome to remind British people that Britain is not greater than Great Britain, and that Great Britain is part of the UK, not its entirety: tiresome but necessary.

Prof. O'Leary's proposal is this:

Northern Ireland and Scotland could and should stay within the European Union while remaining inside the United Kingdom. This proposal need not prevent, and may facilitate, England and Wales in leaving the EU, and it is in accordance with the respective preferences of the peoples of the two Unions who voted in the advisory referendum held on 23 June 2016. Prime Minister May and her Cabinet should address carefully the question of whether to trigger Article 50, or instead to give notice that only parts of the UK—England and Wales—will be leaving the EU. The price of enforcing the entirety of the UK's exit from the EU may be lasting damage to the two Unions that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

What is "Dalriada", anyhow?

What is sketched here is a multinational compromise, of potential benefit to the peoples of these islands and the peoples of the European Union. The first draft was finished on 12 July 2016 in a cottage close to Dalriada Avenue in the village of Cushendall, in the Glens of Antrim, on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland. Across the North Channel, the Mull of Kintyre is strikingly visible in good weather. Dál Riata, also known as Dalriata or Dalriada, was an Irish-speaking polity that included parts of western Scotland and north-eastern Ireland.1 The argument here is not a romantic fantasy that wills the resurrection of ancient Dalriada (or its language). Rather, it responds to the fact that the present needs and mandates in historic Ulster and Scotland are in deep danger of being ignored in current deliberations. The leadership of the Conservative and Unionist party seems determined to ride roughshod over both old and new understandings of the two Unions that comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is not alone. The leadership of the Labour party appears at least as oblivious of its multinational obligations.

Read the whole document for the legal, political, and linguistic details of the proposed solution. Brendan asserts that "There is … no fundamental legal impediment to this proposed compromise", and suggests that it offers significant benefits to Theresa May's government in its difficult pending external and internal negotiations.



  1. Chris Barts said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 6:48 am

    Saying "Brexit is impossible because Britain is defined to be an island" is equivalent to saying "Same-sex marriage is impossible because marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman": It's an attempt to argue against a proposal without, in fact, providing any actual argument whatsoever. It's a rather blatant attempt to shut down opposition with an appeal to an unchallengable authority, made all the more ridiculous by how mutable language is and remains.

    I personally disagree with Brexit, but there are few things as annoying as someone making a terrible argument to support a position you hold.

    [(myl) You've fundamentally misunderstood the proposal, which has nothing to do with the geographical distribution of land and water, or for that matter with linguistic conventions, but rather with the legal and political reality of the situation. You should read the paper, which is carefully documented and argued, before making inaccurate blanket assessments.]

  2. Mr Punch said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 7:26 am

    A simpler version is having England/Wales withdraw from the UK, getting out of the EU with no Article 50 nonsense. The United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland remains in the EU. Then perhaps Donald Trump, in his role of new-model Scottish laird, could persuade the English to pay to rebuild Hadrian's Wall.

  3. Simon P said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 7:58 am

    It seems the document requires registration to access.

    [(myl) — Sorry, I thought it was open. I've replaced the link with one that should work for everyone.]

  4. Joseph F Foster said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 8:10 am

    In a bit of defense of Mr. Barts' comment [first one in the thread], I came to a similar conclusion after your first paragraph, Mark. It sounds like an argument that the United States cannot really withdraw from NATO because the real name of the country is the United States of America. But in fairness to you, the rest of your post does make it clear that there is a bit more to it than pedantic schoolmarmish definitions.

    But how much more? I tried to hunt the article up but, except for the abstract and first page, it's behind a paywall and not available on JSTOR. And while it seems to be more than definitional quibbling, it sounds from the abstract and your summary that it may turn out to be legal quibbling.

    For the record, I am delighted to see the UK secede from the European Union and hope all the other members do to before those budding Brussel sprout bureaucratic dictators get control of an army and prevent anybody from getting out.

  5. Brett said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    The political idea seems absurd, and the linguistic claims are pure sophistry in support of the political aspect. However, he does (unlike the people running the National Geography Bee) understand that "Great Britain" and "United Kingdom" are not synonyms.

  6. Bart said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 9:01 am

    I wish you wouldn't spoil this linguistics blog with such tedious pieces on political matters.

  7. Cervantes said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 9:05 am

    Read the whole document for the legal, political, and linguistic details of the proposed solution. [O'Leary] asserts that "There is … no fundamental legal impediment to this proposed compromise"

    He may not have considered the thing from every angle. For example, one could ask Catalonians, and (other) Spaniards, what they make of the possibilities.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 9:07 am

    I wondered about "It is tiresome to remind British people that Britain is not greater than Great Britain, and that Great Britain is part of the UK, not its entirety: tiresome but necessary." Here's a sentence from an article in The Belfast Telegraph, published today.

    "The comments came after Business Secretary Greg Clark insisted a key objective in the negotiations will be to secure continued tariff-free access to the EU market for British manufacturers."

    Is it tiresome but necessary to remind Northern Irish people of the same thing? If not, why not? (I can't imagine the newspaper was telling us that Clark excluded Northern Ireland from that objective.)

  9. Bloix said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    Joseph L Foster-
    The linguistic point is an entry into the political point: secession from the EU means the imposition of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, something that is arguably prohibited by the Good Friday Agreement without a vote in favor by the Northern Irish and perhaps even by voters in the Republic. (The Agreement provides that it is "for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination”). Yet the effect of Brexit on Ireland was not discussed in all the campaigning up to the vote. On Scotland, yes, but not on Ireland. When the Irish hear "Brexit means Brexit," what it means to them is, the British are running this country and we don't give a flying fuck for the Good Friday Agreement or for peace in Ireland.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 9:37 am

    The onomastic peeving is also a non sequitur given the substantive points being made. The usual objection (whether considered well-founded or not) to "Britain" as a synonym for "UK" is that it implicitly excludes Northern Ireland. But it sure as heck doesn't exclude Scotland. Indeed, one primary benefit of getting people to habitually use "Britain" as a synonym for UK is that it helps prevent them from using "England" as a metonym for the whole UK, a usage which has historically been considered irksome by the Scots. The revival of a name of a polity that has been defunct for almost a millenium and a half (As Yeats almost said: "Romantic Dalriada's dead and gone. It's with O'Leary in the grave") underscores that there is no conventional way of talking about Scotland-and-Northern-Ireland as a set (and as distinguished from England-and-Wales), because we have not been in the habit of thinking about them jointly as that sort of set.

    [(myl) The point of what you call "onomastic peeving" is to get people to think clearly about what the political entities involved actually are, what agreements among them exist, what rights and options each of them has, and how all of this relates to possible future relations among the UK, its parts, the EU, and various other European political entities including Ireland.

    Words have meanings and referents, and in cases like this, it matters. From The Analects:

    If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

    Many people have suggested that an overall withdrawal of the UK from the EU would probably result in the dissolution of the UK. O'Leary's proposal offers a way to avoid that outcome, while letting the parts leave the EU that voted to do so. (Too bad for London, but …). His ideas are probably not politically practical, but they shouldn't be rejected without thought.]

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 10:00 am

    Surely Confucius was a prescriptivist peever, and I don't believe I have previously seen that well-known passage from the Analects cited favorably by someone who generally took a descriptivist view of linguistics and accepted that the relationship between signifiers and signifieds was generally a conventional and arbitrary one rather than one that ought to be suffused with deep intrinsic guidance to the True Nature of Things. The notion that the use of different shorthand jargon in the headlines would have caused swing voters in England or Wales to give more thought to the distinctive situation of Northern Ireland seems like questionable pop-Whorfianism. Non-linguistic explanations for why those voters gave little weight to the Northern Ireland angles of the question seem more parsimonious.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 10:15 am

    In fairness to Prof. O'Leary, I should note that he would have had, and I assume published, more or less the same arguments about the distinctiveness of Northern Ireland (where the legal issues relate directly to some of his own prior work) even if only Northern Ireland had had a local Remain majority and Scotland had had a local Leave majority. Because the technical arguments about Scotland are different, lumping them together with those for Northern Ireland may make for a more conceptually muddled narrative even though the Remain majority in Scotland makes the idea perhaps more politically palatable.

    I do not have a strong view as to the politics of the proposal. I will offer the possibly uninformed historical opinion that if the Good Friday Agreement had been widely understood at the time (which I'm assuming it was not, although I welcome correction) to have the practical effect of binding both UK and Ireland to remain in the EU perpetually (or at least binding them both to remain unless they both wished to leave simultaneously) it seems likely that would have made it more difficult to get that agreement adopted by getting one already contentious issue mixed up with another.

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    To Jerry Friedman's point, see the interesting recent census data at re who does and doesn't self-identify as "British" given a menu of options for ethno-national self-description.

  14. RP said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 11:13 am

    I had a look at the Good Friday Agreement last week and found that, somewhat to my disappointment, it is actually quite difficult in good faith to interpret it as having any bearing on the question of the EU.

    If you just heard "self-determination" or "it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people" out of context, you could readily interpret it that way. But in context?

    "…recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland"

    "to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland"

    "their right of self-determination on the basis set out in sections (i) and (ii) above to bring about a united Ireland"

  15. Vuka said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 11:19 am

    This trifling over the popular term for secession of the UK from the EU is completely irrelevant when you consider the question posed to voters was “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”, which cannot be interpreted in a way that excludes any of the constituent countries. Though you can argue that the term Brexit is lacking, that doesn't change the understanding that everyone had that referendum regarded the UK as a whole and not simply Great Britain.

    I really can't comment on the Brexit proceedings as I lack the legal and political knowledge to make any statements I would be comfortable sharing with the world.

    In any case I frankly have to agree with Bart that I find the unnecessary injection of politics into this blog quite tiresome. I read this blog for its linguistics content, not unsolicited political commentary. To invoke a Latin saying, “sutor, ne ultra crepidam”.

  16. philip said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 11:31 am

    @Jerry Friedman – in the absence of 'UKish' as an adjective, the accepted adjective for the UK is 'British' and it DOES include people from Northern Ireland which, although not being in Great Britain, is (with some measure of reluctance on the part of some of its inhabitants) in the UK. A worse problem is the general understanding that the 'great' in 'Great Britain' means 'superior/worthy of admiration etc.' rather than 'larger in physical extent' as in the 'greater New York area'.

    Now for an article that starts off being picky about geography and politics and correct terms … this is an absolute howler later on: "Rather, it responds to the fact that the present needs and mandates in historic Ulster and Scotland …' Three of the counties of historic (and present) Ulster are part of the political entity known as the Republic of Ireland, and are not involved in the exit from the EU and would be quite alarmed at the idea of taking them out of the independent country they belong to and joining them with Scotland. The fact that some Protestants conflate the terms Ulster and Northern Ireland is neither here nor there … but when you consider that some of the same people talk about 'the mainland' when referring to the island immediately to their East, you may realise that being geographically challenged is a common complaint in these parts. Some residents cannot even bring themselves to use the term 'Northern Ireland' and come up with convolutions like 'in the north of this island'.

  17. Lazar said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 11:45 am

    My practical understanding of the terms has been that 'Britain' is greater than Great Britain, and serves as a convenient alternate shorthand name for the UK. (My British grandmother hated the latter term; she thought it was too clinical.) I have to agree with J.W. Brewer in viewing O'Leary's argument as a prescriptivist peeve, and a wrong-footed way to open an article aiming for sensible persuasion.

    And to apply this Confucian approach consistently we'd have to expurgate all use of 'British' as the demonym for the UK, which… would be downright quixotic. A Google search turns up UK government webpages referring to British citizenship and Briitsh nationality.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    The same lady who is the current Queen in the U.K. is also concurrently: a) Queen of Antigua and Barbuda; b) Queen of Saint Christopher [alias Kitts] and Nevis; and c) Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She was formerly also d) Queen of Trinidad and Tobago, until the adoption of a republican constitution there. I expect all of these other multi-island polities have experienced similar issues with the second-named junior partner often being omitted for the sake of brevity in casual discussion and demonyms that perhaps ought to be applicable to the whole often being formed solely from the first-named island. Why the grievances, linguistic or substantive, of Irish separatists receive more attention in the academy and media than the grievances of Tobagonian or Nevisian separatists is left as an exercise for the reader.

  19. Constantin Klier said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    It is still silly to call it "UK" because this this just a form of government, same for "US". No one calls in international matter Germany the FR (Federal Republic), that would be the same, or France the republic. And yes, at least for the US, there other states that call themselves "Unites States" e.g. Mexico.

  20. BZ said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

    @Constantin Klier,
    It is not silly in the least. Each country determines what they want to be called, and even when their preference is not taken into account, it is usually the geographic area it encompasses that is used as the name. The problem with the UK is that there is no single name for the geographic area that is taken up by the UK. Rather there are multiple geographic areas that are united. The problem with the US is the opposite. "America" alone is not specific enough to refer only to the United States and there is no single geographical name for that area. But those aren't even the worst examples. Think of the former Soviet Union, where no geographic area is included in the country name at all. Sure, you get things like "Russia", but non-Russians were seriously annoyed to be lumped together with it.

  21. SlideSF said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

    I am not qualified to comment on this entry either in terms of Politics or Linguistics. However, I can comment on the "tiresome" issue. I can't think of any blogs or online magazines that do not have the occasional "tiresome" entry. At least to me. Perhaps there are others who find them interesting. Tiresome others, no doubt, but others nevertheless.

    Personally, I find this entry (and the comments) to be one of the more interesting of late. Perhaps I would not if I spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, but I don't. Nevertheless, I do not find the proportionally large number of posts relating to Chinese languages "tiresome". I simply glide over them without complaint.

  22. Vuka said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

    Surely you can see you've constructed a false equivalence there, SlideSF. Posts on Chinese languages are of linguistic interest. Political commentary, however, is not.

    I appreciate that in this case the post itself mainly pertains to a specious argument about the use of Britain as a metonym for the UK, but I've rolled my eyes numerous times for example in posts about Donald Trump where the author can't help but pepper in a few political jibes that undermine the otherwise perfectly impartial and insightful post. I simply wish that blatant political remarks at least be confined to the comments section if they need to made in this forum at all.

  23. Hans Adler said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

    One problem with this compromise proposal is that it only works if the other EU member states agree. I am not sure that sympathy with the situation of Scotland and Northern Ireland will be enough to cause that.I think it's more likely that the remainder of the EU will call UK politicians' bluff and give the UK a choice between hard Brexit (which could be seen to break the Good Friday Agreement and the law of nations, for reasons explained in the article), and staying in 100%.

  24. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

    Regarding the use of "Britain" to refer to the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: I often have to mention the UK in the columns I write for Lingua Franca, but The Chronicle of Higher Education follows the New York Times style guide, which strongly discourages "the United Kingdom". It agrees that the name is formally correct, but says that in the NYT it "is not ordinarily used except in quotations or in contexts requiring emphasis on Northern Ireland's status. Otherwise use BRITAIN." I mention this just in case anyone who is picky about the distinction might think that I'm just being careless. If I turn in copy containing "the United Kingdom" it gets changed to "Britain" by editorial staff!

  25. SlideSF said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 2:51 pm

    @Vuka – Maybe I'm being obtuse, but I don't see a political agenda being fostered here by Language Log. I see a potential political conundrum arising from a (likely specious) linguistic unclarity. While it may wade into political waters, its presence here seems mostly linguistic, even if the comments – yours included- are less so.

    Your point about Trump posts is better taken, since they seem to outweigh those about any of her opponents by a large factor. It could certainly be surmised that LL is not a fan of the Donald. However, it might also be noted that his communication style is linguistically more singular than anyone running against him, and hence of plausible interest to the average LL reader, if there is such a thing.

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

    There are perhaps some slip ups, but I think LL's Trump coverage has been more dedicated to understanding the genuinely interesting linguistic phenomena associated with him and has if anything pushed back on the tendency seen elsewhere on the internet to assume that anything distinctive about Trump's language usage should be interpreted as uncharitably possible so that it can be used as evidence to confirm preexisting notions that Trump is simultaneously Super-Evil and Super-Stupid. So, e.g., figuring out that he was saying "big league" rather than "bigly" was in context directly contrary to a stupid anti-Trump narrative, and the posts in which there seems to be some consensus that Trump's use of definite articles ("I'll be great for the NOUNS") plausibly rubs people the wrong way have explored the rub that it turns out to be harder than one might have supposed to fully articulate and justify the intuition that that's a bigoted or clueless usage.

    Mrs. Clinton is pretty boring, languagewise. I guess if there were an equal-time requirement to find *something* to say about her, I'd appreciate an empirical-analytics-driven post testing the hypothesis (i.e. my super vague anecdotal impression that seems implausible but that I don't trust w/o verification) that there's more markedly Chicago phonology in her vowels when she's giving a stump speech to a large audience than when she's in a more informal setting. (The plausible explanation would be that rather than being fake-folksy, she is being what you might call born-again-folksy by trying to undo the accent reduction she slipped into over the decades as part of her assimilation into the deracinated national elite.)

  27. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

    Sorry – autocorrect error. My hunch re variation in Mrs. Clinton's pronunciation is imho plausible rather than implausible, but it's precisely because it's plausible that I worry that my subconscious has selectively noticed evidence tending to confirm it and overlooked evidence contradicting it, which is where Science (in the form of someone with the technical chops to pull up a bunch of samples and run them through a spectogram or whatever) would come in.

  28. Cervantes said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

    Geoff Pullum writes:

    The Chronicle of Higher Education follows the New York Times style guide, which strongly discourages "the United Kingdom". It agrees that the name is formally correct, but says that in the NYT it "is not ordinarily used except in quotations or in contexts requiring emphasis on Northern Ireland's status. Otherwise use BRITAIN."

    Yes, the NYT has no interest in being "formally correct." (Shome mishtake, shurely? Ed.)

    In any event, which "BRITAIN" do they think they're talking about? Cf. BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REX and BRITANNIARUM OMNIUM REGINA.

  29. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 4:24 pm

    philip: @Jerry Friedman – in the absence of 'UKish' as an adjective, the accepted adjective for the UK is 'British' and it DOES include people from Northern Ireland which, although not being in Great Britain, is (with some measure of reluctance on the part of some of its inhabitants) in the UK.

    In the phrase I quoted, "access to the EU market for British manufacturers", "UK" would have been an acceptable replacement for "British", right? Although some might dislike the two two-letter initialisms so close together.

    More to your point, though, I hadn't considered that O'Leary (who I was specifically talking about) might reject "Britain" and "Great Britain" for "the UK" but accept "British" for "of the UK". Thanks for educating me on that fine distinction.

    …when you consider that some of the same people talk about 'the mainland' when referring to the island immediately to their East, you may realise that being geographically challenged is a common complaint in these parts.

    I take it they're not talking about the biggest island in the Shetlands?

  30. Cervantes said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

    …when you consider that some of the same people talk about 'the mainland' when referring to the island immediately to their East, you may realise that being geographically challenged is a common complaint in these parts.

    I take it they're not talking about the biggest island in the Shetlands?

    Not as uncommon a way of thinking as one might expect. For a lark, guess which of New Zealand's two large islands is called "the mainland."

  31. RP said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 4:44 pm

    The NYT's view of the two terms' synonymy is shared by British (or UK) sources. For example, the UK government uses the terms interchangeably most of the time; our passports say "British citizen" (not UK citizen); and the Economist's UK news section is called "Britain". And the Guardian style guide ( ) says:
    "Britain, UK. These terms are synonymous: Britain is the official short form of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Used as adjectives, therefore, British and UK mean the same".

    Of course, that last statement isn't quite true. For instance, Lazar referred earlier to his British grandmother. To say "UK grandmother" would have sounded odd and wouldn't necessarily have meant quite the same thing.

  32. peterv said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 4:57 pm

    We should not forget the British-Irish Council, a creation of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and originally called The Council of the Isles, which permits residents of Northern Ireland to pretend they are governed by whichever of the UK and Eire they prefer. It comprises representatives from all the Parliaments and Assemblies in the area, including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

  33. peterv said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 5:05 pm


    > "Not as uncommon a way of thinking as one might expect. For a lark, guess which of New Zealand's two large islands is called "the mainland." "

    Would the correct answer be "Australia"?

  34. Cervantes said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

    Would the correct answer be "Australia"?

    If you're in Tasmania, yes!

  35. Bloix said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

    Apparently (ie Wikipedia tells us that) in medieval times, Britannia major meant the island of Great Britain and Britannia minor meant Brittany.

    Generally it's not a problem for a country formally named "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island" to have a short form "Britain," and more than it's a problem for "The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago" to be called "Trinidad" or "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to be called "Rhode Island."
    But when it is used in a context that appears to be an intentional snub, as in "Brexit means Brexit," then it's a problem.

  36. Jonathan D said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 5:14 pm

    O'Leary doesn't like "UKGB & NI". The answer is to include the less important words: tUKoGBaNI, or Tukogbani.

  37. RP said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 5:55 pm

    Wikipedia also records, though, that Ptolemy referred to Ireland as little Britain. It's also worth noting that in Lewis & Short, "Britannia" has two senses, (1) an extended sense (also "Britanniae" plural) of Britain and Ireland and (2) a narrower sense of just Great Britain.

    So over time there's been no consistency as to which territory Great Britain was greater than. First it was Ireland. Later, Brittany.

    The term "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" is ambiguous. The correct parsing is "United Kingdom of [Great Britain and Northern Ireland]". But I have known it to be misinterpreted as "[United Kingdom of Great Britain] and [Northern Ireland]". This latter interpretation (which would be encouraged by the idiosyncratic spacing in O'Leary's "UKGB & NI") would imply that NI wasn't part of the UK (but it is).

  38. mollymooly said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 6:26 pm

    "It is tiresome to remind British people that Britain is not greater than Great Britain, and that Great Britain is part of the UK, not its entirety: tiresome but necessary."

    O'Leary doesn't seem to elaborate on this point in the linked paper. Why is it necessary? I surmise that he believes that using "Britain" to mean "UK" increases the risk of people in Great Britain forgetting that Northern Ireland is part of the same state. It's not clear to me that that is the case; nor is it clear that fastidious use of "UK" or "United Kingdom" would reduce any such risk, since neither of those alternatives mentions Northern Ireland either.

  39. Terry Hunt said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

    I think multiple interpretations of "Brexit means Brexit" may be confusing the discussion.

    Professor O'Leary's interpretation seems to be that it means exit from the EU of Britain (as opposed to any other geopolitical entity) and disagrees with what "Britain" does or should mean in this context. This may be a valid linguistic point, but since in practice everyone knows that "Britain" carries the usual meaning of the UK(oGB&NI) in this context, it's irrelevant to the ongoing political process other than to push a fringe agenda.

    My understanding of the Prime Minister's intent, however, is that it means real exit rather than something that isn't really a proper exit at all. In other words "Brexit means Brexit" rather than "Brexit means Brexit". The thrust of this meaning is different, and essentially political and economic rather than linguistic.

    In blog discussion , I myself (British in the sense of being predominantly of English and Scots descent, and born and mainly raised in England) sometimes use the term "Ukian" self-referentially, and sometimes see citizens of the USA use "Usian" similarly.

  40. D.O. said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 10:08 pm

    UKGB & NI has a KGB in it. Is it some sub-department of former KGB? Should we rename it to UFSB & NI whatever U and NI stand for?

    As for queen Elizabeth of St. Kitts and Nevis, is she still officially pretending to be the Queen of France?

  41. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 10:19 pm

    To D.O.'s question, by an interesting coincidence the long-standing nominal claim of English/British monarchs to the throne of France was dropped during the reign of George III as part of the 1801 rejiggering of his official titles occasioned by . . . the newly-created United Kingdom of Great Britain and [not-just-northern] Ireland.

    France had previously been situated smack in the middle of St. George's Channel, as witness e.g. Charles II's Latin titles "Carolus II. Magnae Britanniae, Franciae et Hiberniae Rex etc. Fidei Defensor."

  42. Bloix said,

    October 31, 2016 @ 11:39 pm

    Anyone who followed the Brexit campaign must have noticed that there was virtually no mention of its effect on Ireland. The fact that Brexit would require a hard border between the Republic and the North was hardly ever acknowledged.
    Well, it turns out that the Irish don't want a hard border. And some of them really, seriously don't want it, as in, if it happens there might be a return to civil war.
    Did the British – either the English or the Scots – understand that Brexit might lead to people killing each other again? Did fat Boris or weasel Nigel give it 10 seconds' thought?
    Maybe Terry Hunt is right about what Teresa May thinks she means. But it doesn't matter what a politician thinks she means. It matters what her hearers hear. And what the Irish hear is, fuck off and die.

  43. D.O. said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 12:47 am

    J.W.Brewer, thanks for finding that out! I remember seeing a portrait of William of Orange with claim that he was "Britanniae, Franciae et Hiberniae Rex" (it was written on a ribbon around the portrait).

  44. AntC said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:54 am

    @Cervantes For a lark, guess which of New Zealand's two large islands is called "the mainland."

    Not quite seeing why that should be a lark. Speaking from NZ, "the mainland" is so-called because it is the largest by area — ie The South Island/Te Waipounamu.

    @peterv Would the correct answer be "Australia"?

    No. Australia is known as The West Island.

  45. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 6:00 am

    @jerry: "In the phrase I quoted, "access to the EU market for British manufacturers", "UK" would have been an acceptable replacement for "British", right? Although some might dislike the two two-letter initialisms so close together."

    Yes, 'UK manufacturers' would have been acceptable – to most people, but not to me. I have a similar problem with people referring to students from these parts as 'Northern Ireland students'. No one ever refers to 'England students' or 'France students', but the 'mainlanders' have a difficulty in ever pronouncing the word 'Irish' in relation to these parts in case anyone might – horror of horrors – think they were admitting/advocating/acknowledging some connection with the political entity to their immediate south (and I do not mean Spain, Jerry). So we get the abomination of a phrase that is 'Northern Ireland students' which is, to get back to the point, akin structurally to 'UK manufacturers' and so not acceptable to me. [Do these people manufacture miniature or replica UKs for a job? :):)]

  46. mollymooly said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 6:10 am

    @philip: In my experience, it is Irish nationalists who object to the adjective and demonym "Northern Irish", as tending to elevate the status of Northern Ireland from an artificial jurisdiction to a fully-fledged nation.

  47. tk said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 6:55 am

    'Demonym' ?
    Okaaay, I guess. I figured out what it meant, and found, at least according to Wikipedia, it has its origin in George H. Scheetz (1988), _Names' Names: A Descriptive and Pervasive Onymicon_. Schütz Verlag

    As an Anthro, who has had to deal with such things, I prefer 'ethnonym' — 'Comanche' as an ethnonym in English is derived from the Ute word meaning 'those people over there'; for the people themselves, the ethnonym is Numunuu [which I loosely translate as us'ns (as opposed to y'all)] – sort of like Greek 'Keltoi': 'those barbaric people on the other side of the mountains', although no one knows what they called themselves ) —
    I'm not sure of its origin (though I suspect the Soviet ethnographer Yulian Bromley) , but since I used it in my dissertation (1986), for me at least, ethnonym has precedence over 'demonym' (which also looks too much like "demon-nym."

  48. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 7:41 am

    hi mollymooly: the usage I was talking about was as an adjective in (mostly) university and Department of Education published materials. The aversion to 'Northern Irish' from Irish nationalists that you mention seems to me to crop up more when people try to use it as a designation of their nationality. There is a sort of pressure group movement advocating this use, even though 'Northern Irish' is NOT one of the three nationality options available to residents of Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement: they can be Irish, British, or both; but not Northern Irish. [By the way, British is not a nationality either; it is a description of which jurisdiction rules you: as in I am a British subject, and an Irish national. Welsh and Scots and English people never state their nationality as British, because it is not a nationality, just as Russian for citizens of the USSR outside of Russia was not a nationality.]

  49. per incuriam said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 8:30 am

    @mollymooly @philip
    Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's British nationalists (DUP etc.) have adopted the practice of UKIP and Tories of referring to the UK itself as a nation-state. So for them too, there seems to be no question of their "province" being elevated to the status of "a fully-fledged nation".

    I agree that Prof. O'Leary's point about Brexit does not much assist his substantive arguments. A more interesting terminological question may be to what extent the uncritical adoption by the media and political class of a number of other misnomers may have helped pave the way for the Leave majority. The term "Eurosceptic", for example, used to describe what in any other European country would have been referred to as something like "rightwing nationalist".

  50. JJM said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    "By the way, British is not a nationality either…"

    Er, yes, it is.

    Presumably you mean British is not an ethnicity.

  51. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:01 am

    @JJM – No, unlike Humpty Dumpty, I say what I mean. Ask any British person from England, Wales, Scotland, the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar about their nationality and they will say: English, Welsh, Scottish, Falkland Islander or Gibraltarian. They are all British subjects/citizens though (ie subjects of the crown). At the minute, I am Irish and a British subject. Tomorrow, if China took over the running of the UK, I would still be Irish but a Chinese subject. It would not make me Chinese.

  52. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:10 am

    Except if you ask people in Northern Ireland (the UK census does this) about their "national identity" almost half of them will say "British," which is a much higher percentage choosing that option than you get elsewhere in the UK. Many of them say "Northern Irish," which is an option the census form affords although I'm sure some think it shouldn't.

    What "national identity" means in a UK context is not wholly unlike what "ethnicity" means in a US context, it seems to me.

  53. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:27 am

    @ JW Brewer: it is indeed very hard to legislate for people. Those answering British are very soon informed that they are Irish any time they turn up in Great Britain. And those answering Irish are quite often told they are Nordies when they arrive in Dublin. My passport tell me I am an Irish citizen, but my geographical location means that I am subject to British taxes and laws: so, Irish national, British subject.

  54. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:30 am

    Here is the actual question from the census. In what other God-forsaken place would this question have a 'tick all that apply' instruction with it?

    How would you describe your national identity?
    Tick all that apply.
    British Irish Northern Irish
    English Scottish Welsh
    Other, write in

  55. mollymooly said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:45 am

    There are six types of "British national". Most British nationals are "British citizens"; very few are "British subjects".

    Of course, "nation" has many meanings, and it is not uncommon to describe the UK as a "nation of nations" or similar. Insisting on One True Meaning of "nation" is as petty as insisting on One True Meaning of "Britain".

  56. RP said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 9:53 am

    fwiw I'm English (and British) and I consider my nationality to be British. My passport says "nationality: British citizen".

  57. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:00 am

    RP – so your passport officially confuses the terms nationality and citizenship?
    mollymooly – this is a good BBC article about subject v citizen:

  58. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    If I'm not mistaken, anglophone South Africans refer to themselves as British.

  59. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:31 am

    On the current US census the "race" question (using a rather incoherent definition of "race") is now check-all-that-apply, whereas the separate "are you Hispanic" is presented as a binary yes/no. The question (now on the separate ACS survey rather than in the census proper) "What is this person's ancestry or ethnic origin?" (which is where one might say, e.g. "Italian" or "Turkish") is a fill in the blank rather than check one or more of the above. Although the instructions say neither "give only one" or "list everything," some people do fill in more than one answer, so the percentages for different possibilities collectively sum up to more than 100% of the population.

    In societies without strict exogamy taboos (unless they have super-strict and almost exceptionless conventions for assigning the children of mixed unions exclusively to the group of one parent or the other) there will inevitably be a material number of people who will not self-identify exclusively with a single answer for this sort of question.

    FWIW, "British" as an "ancestry or ethnic origin" self-identifier is relatively uncommon in the U.S., given by 1.1 million people in the 2000 Census, as compared to 38.7M for Irish, 24.1M for English, 4.9M for Scottish, and 1.8M for Welsh. Note however that it is generally thought that most of the 20.2M who give simply "American" as their ethnic/ancestral self-identifier are of primarily British-other-than-Irish-Catholic ancestry, often with a big chunk of Scotch-Irish (which was not listed separately in the census publication I saw, so either they lumped those answers in with something else or <100,000 people used that self-identifier in 2000).

  60. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 11:34 am

    @Cory: no you are not mistaken, but they are :):)

  61. RP said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 11:34 am

    Philip – why contend that there is only one possible definition of "nationality"? What makes you think it is "confused" just because it differs from the definition you're using?

    OED 3a: "National origin or identity; (Law) the status of being a citizen or subject of a particular state; the legal relationship between a citizen and his or her state, usually involving obligations of support and protection; a particular national identity."

    M-W 3: "a : national status; specifically : a legal relationship involving allegiance on the part of an individual and usually protection on the part of the state b : membership in a particular nation".

  62. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 11:59 am

    Hi RP: it has something to do, for me, with the protection of language and the meaning of words. In the usual example, it is impossible to be 'slightly' pregnant; i.e. it is a binary, yes or no, state. So, despite the Good Friday Agreement, I hold that it is impossible for me to have two nationalities, to be both Irish and British. Same for me with people who 'self-identify' as anything, like the white woman who identified as black. No matter how people answer the question, "How would you describe your nationality?", for me there is actually a definitive answer to the question which reflects the facts, not the individual's perception of the facts. I sometimes feel a bit Spanish in my outlooks and habits, but I am not Spanish. My nationality is a fact – I am Irish – but I am currently subject to British jurisdiction, without my consent. That is why British is not my nationality, just as Chinese would not be my nationality if the UK were to be invaded by The People's Republic of China.

  63. pj said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 12:51 pm


    Ask any British person from England, Wales, Scotland, the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar about their nationality and they will say: English, Welsh, Scottish, Falkland Islander or Gibraltarian.

    Huh, it is always interesting to learn something new about oneself. I was under the impression that I said 'British' in response to that question. I must have misheard myself all these years.

  64. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 12:53 pm

    Even if "nationality" is understood as narrowly as basically meaning just "which nation-state's passport do you carry," there are plenty of people out there with multiple passports because they are dual (or even occasionally more-than-dual) citizens. But the way the UK census asks the "national identity" question makes it clear they're interested in something other than yes/no answers to: 1. Do you have a British passport? 2. Is it your only passport?

  65. RfP said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 12:58 pm

    It's amazing how thoroughly politics is imbued in these linguistic questions!

    My mom's family mostly came to North America from the British Isles starting in the late 16th Century. Some of them were named Daughtry, which as I understand it was one of the ways that the Scots and the Irish wore down the French last name of emigrants who had been called Darcy. (Also Doherty, etc.)

    Am I French? Am I Scots-Irish? Am I Welsh? Am I English?

    There's a joke about a Beacham and Campbell meeting at a party and one saying to the other, "Glad to meet a fellow Fairfield!" (The English family name Beacham comes from Beauchamps, who were Fairfields who moved to France, and the Scottish Campbell comes from Campobello, similarly.)

    My sympathies have always lain with those among the Irish who want their island back. And because of that, I don't look back fondly on the kind of activities I am forced to assume were carried out by my Scottish ancestors who moved to Ulster with the English.

    But much like those South Africans, I think of myself as British on my mother's side, regardless of a complex and at times heart-rending history that even includes a successful revolution against the mother country.

    If I had Irish Catholic ancestors, I'm pretty sure I would feel differently.

    Yes, politics.

  66. RfP said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

    P.S. Sorry, my family came to North America starting in the late 1600s, not the late 16th century.

    Also, in the interests of accuracy, the Fairfield joke is based on anecdotes I have heard, starting several decades ago. Although I am pretty sure it is more than an urban legend, even if it is only partially true, it speaks clearly to the reality of how much movement occurred in the settling of the British Isles, whose Caucasian inhabitants–at least on the Big Island–are seemingly more of a set of overlays rather than a single, coherent ethnic group (other than "European," which opens up a whole different can of worms.)

  67. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

    That question is not on the UK census – it is only on the NI census. There is a difference between citizenship and nationality. For example, I am also a citizen of the European Union, but European cannot be my nationality as the Europe Union is not a nation. Also, people from Switzerland, for example, are also European, but not citizens of the European Union. My nationality is Irish (whether or not I hold an Irish passport), I am a British and an EU citizen, but the two things cannot be conflated.

  68. philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:17 pm

    @ pj – where are you from?

  69. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:31 pm

    Perhaps it's otherwise in England and/or Wales, but the "national identity" question certainly gets asked by the census in Scotland (unless of course someone is using wikipedia to perpetuate a rather boring hoax).

  70. RP said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

    The question about national identity is asked in England and Wales too.

  71. peterv said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 5:38 pm

    @philip November 1, 2016 @ 11:59 am:

    "So, despite the Good Friday Agreement, I hold that it is impossible for me to have two nationalities, to be both Irish and British."

    It was precisely such binary dogmatism that the Good Friday negotiators identified as an obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland and sought to overcome with creative constructs such as The Council of the Isles. Nationality, after all, is not an unalterable state of nature, but a human construct of relatively recent vintage. Since the partition of Ireland, as an example, citizens of Eire have had the right to live and vote in the UK. Citizens of British Commonwealth nations resident in the UK can also vote in elections there. What does nationhood mean in a country that permits non-citizens to vote?

  72. Philip said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 6:25 pm

    RfP – to answer your questions, you are American, or more accurately, USAian.

  73. Giacomo said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 8:59 pm

    @philip: Nationality is an interesting and tricky word, because it can be distinguished from citizenship in two conflicting ways.

    The first way is yours: citizenship is a legal characteristic, while nationality is an ideal one. This is such a common distinction it would be silly to say that it's wrong. It is, however, legally misleading, because in some countries including the United Kingdom and the United States citizenship and nationality are distinct legal concepts.

    Essentially, from the perspective of international law people have the nationality of the states that give them a passport, but those states may or may not also give them full citizenship as a matter of domestic law. Citizenship implies legal nationality, but not viceversa. Every U.S. citizen is a U.S. national, but there are U.S. nationals from American Samoa who are not U.S. citizens. The situation is even more complicated in the United Kingdom with its colorful colonial history, but British citizenship legally implies British nationality, while there are five vestigial types of British nationality for people without British citizenship.

    Since this distinction between citizenship and nationality is legally material, legal language needs the third distinct category of national identity. This tripartite classification may be overly technical or pedantic (as legal terminology often is), but it's intrinsically more precise and surely cannot be deemed wrong.

  74. Steven P. said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:28 pm

    I must say that I share some of the views of Messrs. Barts, Brewer and Foster. To be a bit more specific, I'm not

  75. speedwell said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:36 pm

    I asked my husband about this because he was born in Northern Ireland, is a citizen of both Ireland and the UK, holds both passports, and we live in Ireland. He had not held any passport, not having needed one to travel, until he simultaneously obtained both the year we were married so we could facilitate applying for a US resident visa ("green card") and do our joint taxes. He had been resident in England during the worst of the Troubles, returning to take care of his ill mother in NI. If it matters, we used the UK route for his immigration paperwork and the Irish passport for his tax paperwork, because both require original documents and we had to file taxes while the visa process was ongoing. During the time that we were arranging the visa, the UK passed laws making it more difficult for us to settle near his family in NI, so instead of settling (anywhere) in the UK, we opted to settle instead in Ireland. I am resident in Ireland on the highest category of marriage visa (the one that allows you to work, and is valid for a three-year period), but I work for an English company of which I am the sole member of its Irish subsidiary.

    To my question as to whether he considered himself solely Irish or solely British, his answer, and I quote, was "do I, fuck". I gather he would answer "both" on the actual form. :)

  76. speedwell said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:42 pm

    Rereading the above in my half-asleep state, I realise (yes, I'm in British-spelling mode at present) that I said we applied for a US green card and settled in Ireland. This is true, but confusing. We were in the US together only a few months before I lost the job I'd held for twelve years, triggering a plan we had to "move home if anything happened" rather sooner than we expected.

  77. speedwell said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 10:53 pm

    Incidentally, this is interesting. I was told that you cannot be a citizen of the EU, only a citizen of a member nation. This is not the case according to the EU's own website, on which it states, "Any person who holds the nationality of an EU country is automatically also an EU citizen. EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. It is for each EU country to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality of that country."

    Hmm. As an American whose father was a naturalised citizen of the US born in Hungary, and whose mother's father was a naturalised citizen of the US born in Italy, I am considered a birthright citizen of both EU-member nations, pending approval of the appropriate paperwork proving my family ties. This makes me, I suppose, an EU citizen by reason of being a national of two member states of which I am not actually a citizen at the moment. Any lawyers in the house want to tell me I'm being pedantic? I'm going back to bed. :)

  78. Steven P. said,

    November 1, 2016 @ 11:11 pm

    Sorry–my finger slipped. I was going to say that I share the puzzlement of many of the other commenters. In particular, I'm not sure why one would (1) cite two paragraphs that involve linguistic nitpicking; (2) snark at a commenter who belittled the linguistic nitpicking; and then (3) go on to argue that the linguistic nitpicking actually matters. Maybe it was was just a misguided attempt at click bait, or maybe it was just a quick and thoughtless decision to pull the first two paragraphs without looking to see whether they really mattered to the author's argument. We're often reminded that expertise in the art of rhetoric does not confer expertise in the science of linguistics.*. The converse is true as well, of course.

    Authorial sloppiness aside, the main problem for this argument is that the voters in the U.K. voted for the *U.K.* to exit the EU. It is called "Brexit" probably because "Brexit" is easier to pronounce than "Ukexit," for reasons Liberman could surely explain better than I can. As is usually the case in these matters, pretty much everyone understands what is meant, and the prescriptivist make things more confusing, not less.

    On top of that, Professor O'Leary seems concerned about the destruction of the U.K. as a multinational union-state (to use his jargon). He seems to think that this is a particularly serious risk of Brexit, and that to avoid it, each individual component should be able to join or leave the EU. So England and Wales would be subject to the jurisdiction of the EU, but Scotland and Northern Ireland wouldn't. Among other things, this would require a customs border between Scotland and England. Perhaps this preserves the "national" part of the term, though how it preserves the "union" part is far from clear. It would seem to do the opposite. Sadly, he seems to have missed the hint that his colleague was trying to give him when she said that she took it as satire.

    * If it is a science. (Sorry, but I've been reading a lot of Chomsky recently, which tends to elicit doubt.)

  79. Joyce Melton said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:56 am

    Isn't Ireland, the whole of it, included in the geographic entity called The British Isles. So, in that sense, isn't the UK a subdivision of TBI?

    Great Britain is the single largest of the British Isles but are not the rest of the islands equally British?

    Maybe, maybe not…

  80. Philip said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 3:04 am

    Giacomo – thanks for that; that is useful and interesting.
    Joyce Melton – oh dear, not The British Isles controversy … see here.

    … and, in the Irish language, that entity is (stupidly in my opinion) called a term which translates as "Ireland and Great Britain'. Stupidly because they have no similar problem with The Irish Sea being called The Irish Sea. Mind you, the French do not call The English Channel The English Channel.

    If Ireland had a Facebook page, under Status the only possible entry would be: it's complicated.

  81. Levantine said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:09 am

    Philip, I'm an ethnic Cypriot from London. My nationality is British. For me, "English" isn't even an option, because I understand it as denoting a particular ethnicity (I know not all immigrants to England feel this way, but many do). All of which is to support what others have already said above: you're wrong.

  82. Philip said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:14 am

    Leavantine: thanks for letting me know I am wrong. That is very helpful. Would it be the London in England that you are from? Am i then also wrong if I include you personally in the term 'the English'?

  83. Levantine said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:15 am

    I'm surprised that no-one in the comments has pointed out that "Brexit" began as a play on "Grexit". That in itself goes a long way to explaining why this is the name we use.

  84. Levantine said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:37 am

    Philip, The answer to your first question is implicit in my original post. As for your other question, I personally do not think of myself as being among "the English". It's not that I find the label offensive, but simply irrelevant to my own identity. The situation may have been different if "British" weren't available to me. Thankfully, it is, and I fully embrace it.

  85. Philip said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 6:54 am

    Levantine: how are you getting on with your post-colonial syndrome in general?

  86. per incuriam said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    Scottish Campbell comes not from Campobello but from the Gaelic cam béal, meaning crooked mouth. See also Cameron, crooked nose.

    As a sort of Tebbit Test, which country you would support in the soccer? In the Six Nations?

  87. peterv said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 8:26 am

    @per incuriam:

    Senator Robert Ray, one-time Australian Minister for Defence and cricket tragic who had a grandfather of Indian origin, had a more realistic cricket test for a multi-cultural society than Tebbit's: He supported the Australian cricket team when Australia played internationally, except when Australia played India, when he supported India.

  88. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:02 am

    Northern Ireland happens to be one of two places in Western Europe (the other is the Basque Country) where nationality is thought of ethnically, so that one can be Irish by nationality and British by citizenship. In Eastern Europe and Asia, on the other hand, it's the norm. I was born a Polish citizen, but my nationality was Jewish, not Polish. I wrote a series of essays on this subject.

  89. Philip said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:35 am

    Coby – based on that it gets more complicated. According to your definition, my nationality is now Roman Catholic (which is not a nationality; but then again, neither is Jewish).

  90. Jason L. said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:21 am

    @Levantine: Good point. Plus, "Brexit" is more euphonious than "Ukexit," or at least easier for native English speakers to say. As for the terminological nitpicking–well, in spite of the professor's protestations that he's not a prescriptive pedant, the truth is that pedants are the only ones who would be confused by the issue. The whole thing reminds me of the sort of libertarian who parses the US Constitution in such a way that he doesn't believe he's legally obligated to pay taxes. Non-pedants understand the real meaning quite well.

    As Vuka noted, the referendum asked whether the *United Kingdom* should leave the EU, so this business about Britain is not actually relevant.

    Pedantry aside, I can't see this guy's fractionated United Kingdom being united for very long, but maybe that's the point.

  91. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:18 am

    Now I'm curious about the possibilities of combining the Scottish portion of my ancestry and the Scotch-Irish portion into a newly reintegrated Dalriadic-American ethnic identity.

  92. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:25 am

    Philip: I don't see what you mean my "[my] definition" of nationality. In Poland between the World Wars, Jews were officially a minority nationality, alongside Germans, Ukrainians and Lithuanians, and this was true in other East European countries as well. In Israel, Jews are the majority nationality, alongside Arabs and a few smaller groups. Outside the West, nationality is usually defined by ethnicity, which may in turn defined by traditional religion (whether or not it's actually practiced — many Jews are atheists, and one son of Polish Jews became a Catholic cardinal without ceasing to regard himself as a Jew) and/or traditional language (whether or not it's actually spoken — think of Russian-speaking Ukrainians or Persian-speaking Pashtuns), and possibly other factors, as in the definition of a Malay in Malaysia.

    The failure to understand non-Western notions of nationality is what led the UK to imprison Jewish refugees from Germany as enemies.

  93. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

    Coby Lubliner: Maybe another way to say it is that the Polish word you have in mind—"narodowość"?—doesn't mean the same thing as "nationality"?

    Or maybe it isn't. In my youth (in the U.S.), "What nationality are you?" meant "What's your ethnic heritage?" and "Jewish" was a possible answer.

    Now you can find people asking on the Internet what nationality some American celebrity is, and other people answering (in a firm tone of typing) that the celebrity is American, and then, since they know what the asker means, giving the celebrity's ethnic ancestry according to Wikipedia. (Anthony Kiedis, Steven Seagal.)

    (However, those are greatly outnumbered by questionnaires that let you determine what nationality your personality or behavior is. When did that become a thing?)

  94. Cervantes said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    Philip writes:

    in the Irish language, ["the British Isles" are] (stupidly in my opinion) called a term which translates as "Ireland and Great Britain'

    Made sense to Ptolemy, anyway. At first he called Ireland "Little Britain," and then a couple of years later started calling it "Iwernia."

    (He used the term "Great Britain" the way we still use it.)

  95. RfP said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

    Thanks for your tenacity and integrity, Philip.

    I now realize that I have a lot more to learn about the politics of these linguistic issues. In fact, I feel a lot like the Mr. Jones that Bob Dylan referred to: "because something is happening and you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones."

    Just for starters, I had no idea (although I really should have known) that "the British Isles" was a contested term.

    I still can't see calling myself a UnitedStatesian (even though it is a few order of magnitudes better than "USAian" or "USian"), but I will think a lot more about how to overcome the problematic designation of American. "Estadounidense"?

    Thanks again!

  96. RfP said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

    @per incuriam: Cool!

    I also doubt that the only Beauchamps were of English descent.

    But I wonder whether some of the Campbells really did pick up their last name from Fairfield-derived Campobelli. Convergent evolution, as it were.


  97. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

    I just by chance happened upon the wikibiography of a fellow born in what was at the time of his birth part of Germany (tail end of the Weimar era) but is now part of Poland and which says "He said in an interview that he is Silesian of nationality." That's of course oddly phrased and was perhaps written by someone whose first language is not English. The German wiki piece on the same guy says more elaborately: 'Im Jahre 2006 hat er sich in einem Interview auf die Frage nach seiner Nationalität und Religion selbst als „Schlesier“ bezeichnet.' The underlying interview was apparently conducted in Polish, and what he apparentlly actually said to the interviewer was "Czuję się Ślązakiem, to moja narodowość, to moja religia." So there's presumably the same Polish word from Coby Lubliner's childhood that may or may not best be translated into English as "nationality," although that's what google translate does to it.

  98. Levantine said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:59 pm

    per incuriam, I don't follow sport at all, nor do I understand the tribalism it brings out in people, so I never support any side in such situations. For what it's worth, I do root for the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, which promotes a kind of patriotism I can get on board with (good natured and inclusive).

  99. Philip said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

    I think I'll leave my last word on this to Beckett and Joyce.

    Beckett, when asked by a French journalist if he was English, replied ‘Au contraire.’

    And Joyce, perhaps the quintessential Irish writer, was very particular in his choice of passports:

    "Joyce rejected Irish nationality on several occasions. Living in Paris in 1930, he wrote to his son Giorgio: “Some days ago I had to renew my passport. The clerk told me he had orders to send people like me to the Irish delegation. But I insisted instead and got a British one.”

    A decade later the Joyces were offered Irish passports, which would have enabled them to leave Nazi-occupied France more easily if needed. Again, the offer was declined and Joyce clung doggedly to his British passport, despite the increased risk.

    By his own choice, Joyce was officially British to his death in 1941."


  100. D.O. said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 9:25 pm

    There was an old Soviet joke about a fellow who answered a question about his nationality as "yes".

  101. per incuriam said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:19 pm

    Good for you not feeling obliged to profess even a passing interest in sport. Bit unusual these days.

    Eurovision don't really fit the bill though since there it's a UK entry, unlike the soccer and rugby where England, Scotland and Wales each has its own national team so you've no "British" option.
    Eurovision doesn't appear to entirely free from tribalism either btw. Take the constant griping about "bloc voting", for example, or the booing of certain countries' entries. And then there's British TV's trademark sneering at the funny foreigners, which for many viewers seems to be the main reason for tuning in.

  102. per incuriam said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:30 pm

    But I wonder whether some of the Campbells really did pick up their last name from Fairfield-derived Campobelli. Convergent evolution, as it were
    You never know. Wikipedia does tell however of one that went in the other direction, the Mexican writer Nellie Campobello, whose stepfather was a Campbell.

  103. Levantine said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 3:02 am

    per incuriam, I suppose I wouldn't automatically support an English side even in a non-sporting competition, including Eurovision (if England were to enter it independently). The reason for this is that I don't feel English. I'm a Londoner, a Briton, and an ethnic Turkish-Cypriot, and those are the identities that matter to me. That's not to say I wouldn't root for England at a particular event if, for example, I liked something about the English contestants/team, but my support wouldn't be the result of any feelings of compatriotism.

    You're right that things can turn a little nasty and tribal at Eurovision, but it's mostly good fun, and I don't think there's anything malicious about the way that Brits (and other viewers) revel in the camp absurdity of it all. This, to my mind, is the sort of level on which people should celebrate their countries and national identities. I find more serious forms of patriotism/nationalism (pledging allegiance to a flag, thinking your country the best in the world, etc.) deeply discomfiting.

  104. pj said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 4:40 am


    @ pj – where are you from?

    Well, if I was asked that question, my reply would depend hugely on context, the location, the nationality of the enquirer – i.e. the actual level of information I thought the person asking it was seeking or that would be useful to them. In a way that the answer to 'What is your nationality?' doesn't at all.

    I might say, 'From [town and/or county in England where I now live],' or, 'I was brought up in [English county] but I now live in [other English county],' or if abroad but thinking my Britishness known or taken for granted, 'Not too far from [large English city I live near that this person is likely to know]', or, not thinking so, 'Britain,' or, 'the UK,' or possibly, 'England' (though I can't honestly think of an occasion when I have said that, come to think of it).

    If you're minded to tell me that my 'nationality', under your terms, is therefore English, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion. But your assertion that I would say so is demonstrably untrue, because what I say is that I'm British. (My immediate family origins have a lot to do with that, but they are not 'where I'm from', because I've personally never had a permanent residence anywhere other than England.)

  105. boynamedsue said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 6:00 am

    Re. the great nationality debate. As a (largely) ethnically English person I consider my nationality to be British, whereas English, as well as being my ethnicity, is a secondary nationality that I occasionally choose to identify with. The area I grew up, similarly to Levantine, was ethnically mixed, although mostly divided between "Asians" and "English". To use "white" to describe the English would be slightly offensive to the Asians who were mostly Kashmiri and fair-skinned, and who placed a cultural value on fair skin. This is changing now though.

  106. boynamedsue said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

    BTW, the cognates of nationality in Catalan and European Spanish, nacionalitat and nacionalidad, can be used to describe a territory rather than a state of belonging to a nation or cultural group.

    Therefore when using English Spanish speakers will sometimes say things like "Catalonia is a nationality".

  107. per incuriam said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

    things can turn a little nasty and tribal at Eurovision, but it's mostly good fun
    I think that's pretty much how people see sport.

    Does what you say imply an emerging distinction in England between "British" and "English" in terms of the inclusion/exclusion not so much of Scottish and Welsh but of those of non-British (or non-European) heritage?

  108. Constantin Klier said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 5:46 am

    @ BZ It " is not silly in the least. Each country determines what they want to be called, and even when their preference is not taken into account, it is usually the geographic area it encompasses that is used as the name"

    This seems not to be true. Name of a country is the name of the political union, and its popoulation (of course!). Borders change, take Germany: borders change. Previous political unions included Silesia, Pomerania etc. as integral parts, today's does not. So "Germany" CANNOT be the name for a geographic country.
    I repeat: Being called "the United kingdom" is linguisitc imperialism: same like France would think that it should be called internationally "the republic".
    The differences in the UKGBNI are quite overrated, I think. Think about the large historic differences within Germany: Prussia versus Bavaria versus Austria say, or within France.

  109. MTC said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 6:47 am

    I feel it necessary to add my voice to those who answer “What is your nationality?” with “British”, rather than anything more specific. I say this as someone who has lived his whole life in one town in Buckinghamshire and has largely English ancestry.

    I’ll also add that to me, seemingly contrary to what was said in a previous comment, “demonym” and “ethnonym” have different connotations; the former relates to geographical location (despite the etymology) while the latter relates to ethnicity. There are thus some ethnonyms that it would not make sense to describe as demonyms, and vice versa. I was surprised to learn that anyone disagreed with this usage, so perhaps others will be surprised to learn of the usage I’m familiar with.

  110. boynamedsue said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 7:33 am

    @per incuriam

    I actually think the direction of change is towards English becoming more inclusive of groups with immigrant roots.

    In the north of England in the 90's, common linguistic practice between the different cultural groups generally excluded non-white people and Irish Travellers from the term "English", but allowed them within the term British. There were some exceptions to this, as some black people (at that time this meant almost exclusively people of Caribbean origin) were beginning to call themselves English, and some people who self-defined as British but had strong Pakistani/Indian accents might not be considered British by some.

    Nowadays most people of all origins would recognise themselves as English in some circumstances, especially regarding sporting events, and English is more likely to be the primary self-defined nationality of the white community that it used to. I think these changes are an inevitable result of the rise in Scottish nationalism, and we may see further evolution towards English and away from British. However, as it stands, I'd say the majority where I'm from are still British first, English second, though perhaps not the majority of white people.

RSS feed for comments on this post