English Or British

"If we've done something good it's a victory for Great Britain.
If we haven't, it's England loses again."
-- FlandersAndSwann

In a similar vein, I can't remember the exact circumstance or sport, but I was once watching some event on television involving a Scottish national team, and while they were winning, the English commentator was talking about how good it was to see a British side doing well for once, and shouldn't we be really proud. Then the tide turned and the team ended up losing. Towards the end of the event, the same commentator started talking about how poorly this Scottish team had performed, especially given their promising start. I don't think it was deliberate, but it was very noticeable. -- MattStephenson

It's like this:

There's the British Isles, which includes the Isles of Scilly (pr. /silly/) out in the western Channel, up to the Shetland Isles, a loud shout from the Arctic Ocean. And from the useless nub of Rockall way out in the Atlantic, to the Farne Islands in the North Sea.

The big island in the middle is GreatBritain (Little Britain is in France; its inhabitants call it Bretagne, and Anglophones call it Brittany). On it are the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. The second largest island is the Island of Ireland. On it is the Republic of Ireland (aka "Eire"), and NorthernIreland (aka the "Province of Ulster").

Éire is the name of the country in Gaelic. It's a complete misnomer to refer to it as such in English. In English, the appropriate terms are "Ireland", "Irish Republic", "Republic of Ireland". Legally, the Republic is termed "Ireland" and the island as a whole is termed the "Island of Ireland". Thus states the constitution.

Although Northern Ireland is often referred to as Ulster, that is not a synonym for Northern Ireland. Only six of Ulster's nine counties are in NI, the other three, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, are in the Republic. Hence the occasional references to "the six counties" that you may hear. This is exactly the kind of confusion that brought this page into being. The "Ulster" of nine counties has no legal existence any longer, but many Irish nationalists, and others, still think that way. I'm not sure if the use of the name "Ulster" to refer to the six British counties makes much sense either. But many staunch Ulster Unionists (which doesn't quite mean either of pro-British or anti-Irish), and others, think of themselves as "Ulstermen" etc. etc. and so on and so forth.

The Irish of the republic refer to NI as "the North of Ireland" - implication: NI is the northern part of the country of Ireland, which just happens to be under separate jurisdiction. The unionists call it "Ulster", with the implication that it is a separate "place" that happens to share a border with the Republic.

No such implication, and it's referred to simply as "The North". The terms "The North" and "The South" have currency across the board, both in the Republic and Northern Ireland, and in NI across both communities. It's just an inoffensive shorthand. The use by Unionists of the term "Ulster" to mean "Northern Ireland" is looked upon with bemused puzzlement in the South, unless you're actually from Ulster itself, in which case it irks.

There are five states in the isles: the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom for short), the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. When the UK was formed in 1801, there were the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, as the rump of the Kingdom of Ireland remaining British when the Irish Free State split away, ultimately to form the Republic. The latter three states are dependencies of the UK, ceding foreign policy and defence to the UK, but are otherwise, in law, and practice, independent.

The above did read 'There are two nations ...'; technically, the Republic and the UK are states; there are about four nations in the archipelago - England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

This is why there are a lot more British sporting teams involved in "international" competitions than you'd expect.

That's not really the reason. Many countries have a similar history to that of the UK, but field a single team in international competition. If FIFA (World association football governing body) were set up from scratch today, there would be just UK and Republic of Ireland teams, as in the Olympics. However, for many internationally played sports, the first international fixture was England v Scotland, long before anyone else thought of playing the sport in question, and the Scots aren't going to be told that they can't have a national team by anyone from a country that's been playing the sport half as long as they have. Given that, it's natural for there to be Wales and Northern Ireland teams too.

Of course, the IOC calls the UK "Great Britain", and there has been the complication that until a couple of years ago, the Republic of Ireland claimed theoretical sovereignty over Northern Ireland. In Rugby Union, there has always been an All-Ireland team rather than Republic and Northern Ireland teams. The Hockey team has similarly been an All-Ireland team, but that wasn't allowed in the Olympics, so the same All-Ireland team played a couple of Olympics ago officially as "Republic of Ireland", with Northern Irish players qualifying because they were entitled to be considered Republic nationals, due to the territorial dispute.

(Note: hockey isn't ice hockey.)

Gets even more confusing if you add Rugby League to the mix. The team is called Great Britain even though nearly all of the players are from northern England. However, the team has had, and still does have, players from the Irish Republic

The team is named based on the pool from which the manager or selectors can choose their players. So the fact that there are so many players from the North of England is merely a reflection that the team selectors consider these to be the best players (not necessarily my view, before I get flamed!). It certainly is true that there is a high density of high profile Rugby League teams in N.England... Within 30 miles of where I live there is St. Helens, Wigan, Widnes and Warrington. There are loads of others. -- MattStephenson

Rugby League organization is rather eccentric. The sport is really played only in northern England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and some Pacific islands, such as Fiji and Samoa. So teams like Scotland basically consist of English or Australian players with Scottish ancestry. Because a New Zealander who is, say, ancestrally Welsh can choose to play for Wales, despite never having been to Wales and Wales not being an independent state, it seemed unfair that a Maori could not choose to play for a Maori team, so now the Rugby League world cup has a New Zealand Maori team alongside the others.

The UK doesn't enter a football team at the Olympics. The rumoured reason for this is that if they did, FIFA would say that they had to field a single team in the World Cup as well, and then we'd be scuppered.

Both Ireland and the UK are members of the EuropeanUnion. Only Ireland is in the Euro zone, and neither are in the Schengen area. For Ireland, this was mostly a pragmatic decision; given that the UK wasn't going to be in the Schengen area, did it want to preserve Schengen-equivalent travel rules with its largest trading partner and its closest geographic neighbour, or join the Schengen countries, with which it didn't share a land border? The former, of course.

Scotland has a Parliament, Wales (strictly, a Principality within the Kingdom of England, but we aren't supposed to say that any more, and not one of the united kingdoms, but still with its own rugby team, for instance) has a National Assembly. Northern Ireland had an Assembly, but it was suspended from midnight on 14 October 2002 and was dissolved on 28 April 2003.

Scotland has legal and educational institutions quite separate from the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland is similar to, but differs from, England and Wales in these respects.

England has no legislative body, but many English people think it has, having got confused about the status of the United Kingdom Parliament in Westminster, which just happened to be constituted in the home of the old English Parliament which was dissolved, along with the old Scottish Parliament, after the Scots royal family took over as monarchs of England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own executive branches; England does not.

Meanwhile, looking from the outside, there are some other "states", e.g. the Isle of Man, the States of Jersey, that seem to be part of the United Kingdom which, when viewed from the British mainland (or Northern Ireland) seem to be somewhat foreign. They are, for example, off-shore for purposes of taxation. They, along with Northern Ireland and Scotland, have their own notes (and coins), promissory money exchangeable 1:1 with Bank of England notes, as used exclusively in England and Wales. The island of Sark remains a feudal society, ruled by a hereditary Seigneur or Dame. Not anymore, it was decided by the ECHR that democracy was an essential part of the ECHR, which applies in the Duchy of Normandy (the English one), so the current Sark constitution is akin to a constitutional monarchy. However, as more than half the electorate are either employees or tenants of the Sark estate, the actual level of democracy is a little questionable.

Quite a few regions of England, especially Cornwall, which is largely populated by Brythonic Celts; and the "North East": Northumbria, Durham and Yorkshire, which have very close links with Scandinavia and the Low Countries (think Saxons & Vikings), and is anyway, culturally closer to Scotland than southern England, would like their own Assemblies, too.

Though the North-East of England rejected the idea of a local assembly quite decisively recently, and so the general idea has been shelved for now.

So, please, be very careful when using labels like English and British. Thanks.

-- KeithBraithwaite (raised in Durham, educated in Scotland, resident in London (until recently) - a European and a Briton)

With edits from AnonymousDonors


So does England, as such, not have its own government - rather it is governed by the United Kingdom?

That's right, and some (many?) people think that this is a fundamental flaw in the system of devolution put into practice by the current UK government.

Even more fun, it doesn't have a written constitution, just a few documents and a lot of tradition.

Well, it does, it's just that there isn't any one document that is the constitution. One key document is Magna Carta (the Great Charter), which fixed the feudal rights and responsibilities of the English monarch and barons in 1215 CE. Any US readers would likely feel a sense of d�j� vu, since a lot of the ideas in Magna Carta resurface in the US Bill of Rights. See http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/featured_documents/magna_carta/legacy.html for a historical survey and comparison. It's worth noting that many of the Barons who witnessed the charter have French names, and even now, anglicized French names are rife amongst the "upper echelons" of British Society.

As noted below, Magna Carta is just a statute law, which has been repealed and reinstated more than once. Also, if the latest statute passed happens to contradict some bit of Magna Carta, then it overrules it. Magna Carta is important in the history of English law, but it is not important in English law.

Even French spelling has, historically, been seen as more refined than Anglo-Saxon spelling (hence the fact that some Anglo-Saxon "four-letter" words are taboo, but those derived from French and Latin are acceptable). This has affected written English and is one reason why English has such illogical and complex rules of spelling... Before the first dictionary, there were no agreed spellings for English words; people spelt them any way that fit the phonetics. The man who compiled the first English dictionary [Do you mean SamuelJohnson? His "Dictionary" was not the first, but was the first in the sense that the word is used today.], was a language snob and used a French-influenced spelling for many Anglo-Saxon words. For example, he used "queen" instead of "cween", and so forth. And we have been stuck with the letters "qu" having the sound "cw" ever since.

Another key document is the Bill of Rights, 1689 (see http://www.wwlia.org/uk-billr.htm ), which laid the foundation for subsequent documents of the same name, as well as doing away with some significant irritations such as the DivineRightOfKings?. A century later, the French successfully and notably did away with not only the DivineRightOfKings? but also the RightOfKings?. :-) -- KevlinHenney

Not to mention the kings themselves!


It has no written constitution in the legal sense. In Britain, parliament is "supreme" and is not bound by any current or former legislation or convention. The British public are protected solely by public opinion and historical convention. However, historically these protections have proven far more effective than mere pieces of paper. -- AlexHoffman (Australia)

The Queen could turn GB into the worst dictatorship in the world, she has both the legal right, and every member of the armed forces, government and the police has sworn allegiance to the Queen. It would cause a pretty huge international political stink, but it is possible. Kinda like the ability to wipe out this place, it doesn't happen much. :-) -- pf

UK royalty is about pomp and ceremony and has no real power in the UK; the electorate is supreme, via parliament.

-- MartinSpamer

No. The queen is the absolute ruler of the United Kingdom; she simply deigns to appoint a government of ministers to do the tedious work of governing for her. By convention, she asks the member of parliament with the greatest backing in the house of commons to be her prime minister, and then gets him to choose the others ("Her Majesty's Government"). They then rule with her authority; parliament has no control over them (it cannot remove them, force them to do things, stop them doing things, etc). All that parliament can do is suggest laws to the queen, who, by convention, always accepts them. Since the laws are the queen's commands, her ministers must of course obey them. However, parliament has no authority of its own, because nor do the electorate.

The point being, of course, that if she didn't let the House of Commons run the show, there would be another civil war, and she would be overthrown. Thus, whilst the queen has the authority, it's parliament which has the power, through threat of force. It sounds crazy (and that's because it is crazy), but it is one of the oldest and best democracies in the world.

So the queen functions as a sort of ombudsman for the people? Kept in place by popular sentiment, she naturally "watches out for their interests"

Kind of, but there is no defined boundaries on what she can do to watch out for the interests of the people. Also, because of the convention that the monarch doesn't make political statements, it isn't obvious to the public what she is actually doing (if anything) to protect them from parliament. (That's also a problem creating a republican constitution for the UK.) However, a few retired Prime Ministers have commented that there is an unwritten rule that she will sign anything she's asked to provided she doesn't get asked to sign anything she doesn't want to, and that part of the PM's job is to make sure she doesn't get asked to sign anything to objectionable.

Parliament has two powers: to regulate taxation (which can only be approved for a single year), and to choose the next monarch (although exercising that power in a new way creates constitutional headaches for the other Commonwealth Realms (the other countries with the Queen as head of state), which was why David Cameron deferred changing the inheritance laws until the others had checked their constitutions). The taxation power is important, because it means that although the Monarch (or, in practice, the chairman of the Privy Council - the PM) can declare war, she can't spend any new money fighting it.

>>> Case law also plays a significant role in addition to Parliament's whimsy.

Not so. Case law does not bind or restrict the British parliament from enacting, modifying or withdrawing legislation in any way. As stated earlier, in Britain, parliament is "supreme" and is not bound by any current or former legislation or convention. This constitutional principle has been the bane of those who would like to see the introduction of a written Bill of Rights in the UK (not to protect human rights but rather limit the reduction of a person's liberty through more and more legislation). There is nothing to stop a subsequent parliament from legally modifying or withdrawing such a Bill of Rights. -- AlexHoffman

By the same token there is nothing to stop the US Senate|Congress|President from doing the same. Nothing that is apart from the balances and checks of the rest of the system. -- MartinSpamer

I am not a solicitor nor a barrister, but I do happen to have a couple of friends who practise law in the UK. 'THEY' tell me case law is critical to the UK system. Whatever .......

Critical to the UK system of justice but not political system. Judges are not elected in the UK, they are appointed, even the Law Lords, who sit in the House of Lords, however Westminster has primacy over the Lords. -- MartinSpamer

Isn't case law exactly the "historical convention" that Alex speaks of? And let's not get into the status of the various European bodies: Parliament, Commission and Courts, or their various regulations, orders and rulings in this whole mess. -- Keith

'Convention' in constitutional law is 'tradition' or 'commonly accepted practice', not case law. For example, there is no law that says that a party will step down if a vote of no-confidence is lost - it is just a convention. Ministerial responsibility is another example of convention and freedom of the press is just a convention in Britain. It is interesting also that "Parliamentary Sovereignty" since 1911 has been solely held by the Commons.

The Magna Carta, and later declarations of rights for centuries limited the power of the King but not parliament. Written constitution? I guess the Brits can really say "who needs one?" -- AlexHoffman (not from the UK)

Technically, the UK parliament is no longer supreme. All legislation passed must conform to the Treaty of Rome articles that form the basis of the European Union. UK legislation that breaches the Treaty of Rome cannot be lawfully enforced by the UK courts. Of course, parliament could always take the UK out of the EU... -- NeilWilson

The Treaty of Rome is a Treaty not law, all EU law must still be ratified by Parliament before it becomes UK law, enforced by UK Courts and it could over ride it at any time it choose. -- MartinSpamer

Indeed, the Treaty of Rome is not law, it's a treaty, signed by a minister on behalf of the queen. As such, it is legally binding on the queen, and so on the state, and hence overrides British law - all treaties do. Furthermore, one of the provisions of one of the European treaties is that directives issued by the EuropeanCommission? should have the force of law, even before the corresponding laws are passed in the member states.

Under EU law, the UK Parliament can not take the UK out of the EU - the writers of the Treaty of Maastricht (I think it was) took note of the slight confusion that existed in North America around 1861, and were explicit that membership was irrevocable. So while under British law, the UK Parliament is, as Neil says, supreme (the treaty of Maastricht has no force once the 1972/1992 European Communities Act is repealed), under EU law the EU is supreme. Today, the UK has an army and the EU doesn't. Tomorrow...

ISTR that the EU Constitution which failed and was replied by the Lisbon Treaty did include a secession measure (I can't remember if it survived in the redrafting of the constitution into the treaty). Also, if the EU were to be regarded as a state (which it arguably is in all respects except that it lacks a unified foreign policy) the member stets would have the right to secede under a UN resolution (14xx, I forget which), which allows any nation to secede from its present government in accordance with the will of the population of its claimed territory. That resolution has been flagrantly ignored by every significant power ever since, but it does exist.

You mean "the UK Parliament can not legally take the UK out of the EU" - a subtle but significant difference!

Case law is important to courts in determining what a law is - if parliament changes a law, the case law doesn't have precedence over the new law.


"...Wales (strictly, a Principality within the Kingdom of England, but we aren't supposed to say that any more..."

Good ;-)

There's a lot more to this situation than the constitutional legalities. Scotland, Ireland and Wales (and even Cornwall) have identifiable, distinct cultures. Each of these nationalities has their own language. Up to the age of sixteen, I was educated in a WelshLanguage school. This is not considered unusual here. There are still WelshLanguage schools in Cardiff and Swansea though. and all schools in Wales teach Welsh as a second language (this keeps getting repealed then reinstated). I read somewhere once that South East Wales actually has more fluent Welsh speakers than the North, it's just the ratio of Welsh to English speakers that is less, which is probably more to do with North Wales having a very small population. -- a non Welsh speaking Welsh person in England

... and no, Scots and Irish Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish don't sound remotely like English.

Beware the difference between "LowlandScots?", a language which does sound remotely like English, and Scottish Gaelic (or Gallic), which doesn't. Also note that no-one learns Cornish as a native language. It sort of died out, though you can still learn it academically. It is very close to Welsh, though the academics claim it's closer to Breton, a Celtic language spoken in Brittany.

"Gallic"? It might be pronounced like that, but is never spelt like that. :-)

Scots as spoken today sounds remotely like English but that's largely due to Anglification as most Scots speakers speak English too and their Scots is diluted a lot. It was also treated badly by the likes of RobertBurns? with all those needless apostrophes. I grew up in Aberdeenshire where LowlandScots? is still spoken by many people in a remarkably pure form. I still understand most of it but after living in Edinburgh for 14 years I have trouble speaking it these days. Find out more at http://www.lallans.co.uk/.

LowlandScots? is actually in some ways closer to Old English than modern English is, having different French influences, although the vocabulary is closer to Old Norse than Old English was (which had a more Germanic vocabulary). There was also the old CommonSpeech? of the germanic peoples, which was a language of trade in Scandanavia, the parts of the British Isles not under Celtic rule, and the Low German regions (and was comprehensible with moderate difficulty to speakers of Old High German)

Interestingly enough, the Welsh assembly is very serious about its IT setup...

Each seat in the assembly chamber has a thin-client intra/internet setup. Publications to the outside world are also, all electronic. Digital audio recordings of the proceedings are taken, but I don't think they've worked out how to publish them yet. Voting records can also be queried on the intranet. (There is talk of how that could be made public). The IT people there believe this is the only governmental setup of its kind in the world. (It's just a shame we have to pay for all those NT server licenses.)

Try Estonia. :-)

The assembly is at: http://www.assembly.wales.gov.uk/.

--A guy who doesn't live in England and who isn't English.

Identity is often coupled to language. The British archipelago has been linguistically diverse for millennia, being home to native speakers of (in no particular order) GermanicLanguage, GaelicLanguage and BrythonicLanguage. In recent decades a healthy level of immigration into the British Isles has resulted in a new richness and vibrancy of language and culture.


Great! In light of the above, what does the term British refer to? Only coming from the Island of Great Britain? Or also from any part of the UK? Should we say UK-ese to mean anywhere from the UK? and Great Britainish to mean just from GB? Thanks for the help here -- AlistairCockburn (whose ancestry is definitely English, ergo Great British, and UKish <I don't like the sound of that last one.>) "UKian" is used jokingly on some usenet groups

Someone replied: Alistair (that name's from Scots Gaelic, by the way), "British" applies to the whole UK, but you have to be careful in Northern Ireland.

Someone else replied: No - NorthernIreland is not part of Britain, but part of the UK. The full title of the UK is "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".

"British" is vague. Usually means the UK. ("The British Government") In Northern Ireland, pedantry is less important than politics.


"Alastair - what is British? Depends what you mean - nationality or race? I raise this as it is one interesting result of the UK government's attempts to establish the "ethnicity" (or racial make-up) of the population, most particularly in the 2001 census. In this, the accompanying notes very clearly stated that "nationality is not ethnicity" but then went on to give options that included "British".

Now call me a pedant here, but the only people who can have any claim to be racially British are those peoples who inhabited the islands before the Romans came (because I think they named the islands "Britain" and the then inhabitants "British". Or was it the Greeks?). Anyway roughly speaking this means that only the Welsh and the Cornish can be "British" (the Irish being, well, Irish and separate - even to the Romans - and the Scots-Gaelic being, well, Irish as well basically) because they are all that is left of the peoples the Romans came across. Generally at sword point.

Everyone else are just immigrants. Admittedly immigrants who have been here for a fair while, but as Wellington once said "being born in a stable does not make you a horse". Similarly just because you, your parents, your grandparents, etc. have all been born on the island of Great Britain for the past 1,500 years or so, its doesn't change the fact that ultimately you are German (well, Saxon any way). After all, you speak a Germanic language so its a dead giveaway, isn't it?

So, while I am by nationality British (cause my passport says so), as someone with a predominantly Anglo-Saxon background (albeit with bits of several other races thrown in - but unfortunately little or no Welsh) I cannot possibly be "ethnically" British. Or "English" (being as English is also a nationality, not a race). After a lot of sole searching I eventually put ticked "other" and wrote "Anglo-Celtic".

Does that help?

I could of course bring up the fact that even the Welsh and other Celtic groups are themselves only incomers, all be it from before recorded history, and so maybe only the peoples who we here before the Celts can claim to be British – i.e., the "Beaker People". Unfortunately, this probably isn't much help as the Celts killed them all.

-- John Birch (lovely pagan-Saxon surname, birch trees having an important religious significance)"

What is the important religious significance, and why does it make the name lovely?


To confuse things even more, the British Isles consists of all of the islands lying off the coast of Brittany (Great Britain, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey etc.). The British Isles is a purely geographical term, so in a geographical sense you can claim to be British if you live anywhere within those islands (just don't expect anyone in the Republic of Ireland to actually do that, though). In the same way that Canadians and US Citizens are both North American.


Just to muddy the waters some more: in common with other EU countries, the UK now puts the ISO country code on vehicle licence plates, it is "GB", but the top level IP domain is "uk".

There was a .gb TLD, back in the early days of the internet - the only subdomain was hmg.gb (for Her Majesty's Government, the equivalent of gov.uk), and the only site in that was dra.hmg.gb (for the Defence Research Agency, who were mucking about with the new IP protocol suite!). It was around that time that the .oz TLD was used for Australia ...

And my driving licence incorrectly uses UK against the EU flag, whilst my passport correctly uses GB and GBR. Great Britain is strictly a geographical rather than a political entity, whereas the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (what you will see on British passports) is (amongst other things) a political entity. -- KevlinHenney

OK, now I don't have to feel so bad that Americans live in the United States and speak English. -- Alistair (whose family is from Northumberland. I've even been to Cockburnspath. Have you?)

Sadly not, but I'll keep an eye out for it. I have been to Braithwaite, which is in Cumbria. -- Keith


The British national flag, the Union Flag (not "Union Jack"), looks like this:

It consists of the red-on-white St George's Cross of the English national flag, the white-on-blue St Andrew's Cross (saltire) of the Scottish national flag, and the red-on-white saltire taken from the FitzHugh? family arms and construed as St Patrick's cross, representing Ireland. It's more complicated than it might be, because it follows the heraldic convention of always separating two "colours" (red and blue), with a non-colour (white, construed as silver, a "metal"). Note that Wales is not represented.

Sadly, the flag has become associated with the worst kind of nationalism, ignorance, bigotry and xenophobia, since it has been abused by racist and extreme right-wing groups as a symbol of exclusion and hate, as in "there ain't no black in the Union Jack."

Note - A "Jack" is a flag flown off the back of a ship. The Union flag however isn't, as it is replaced by the White Ensign (Military vessels) and the Red Ensign(Merchant vessels).

No, a "jack" is the flag flown off the jack-staff at the bow of the ship when in port and at other special times. Royal Navy ships indeed fly a small Union Flag as their jack. Contrast this situation to that in the US Navy, where the ensign is identical to the National Flag, whereas the jack is just the blue canton and stars.


I think that's a little unfair. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the British flag as such (in fact, I think it's one of the more attractive flags in the world). It's mainly that most British people consider it a little distasteful to promote or even defend their nation, which means that such symbols have, to a large extent, been taken over by extremists.

The cure is really for the genuine patriots to reclaim their rights!


Sadly, the flag has become associated with the worst kind of nationalism, ignorance, bigotry and xenophobia, since it has been abused by racist and extreme right-wing groups as a symbol of exclusion and hate.

This has changed during the Queen's 50th Jubilee celebrations and the football (aka soccer) World Cup. It is currently (June 2002, just before England play Brazil in the quarter final) very common to see the Union Flag and the flag of Saint George (the English flag) displayed in shop windows, people's houses, flown from people's cars, worn on t-shirts or hats and even painted on people's faces at football matches or while watching the football in pubs. There was a determined, grassroots campaign to change the association of national flags from symbols of the far-right to being symbols of national unity, and that campaign has basically succeeded. The flags are used by English people of all ethnic backgrounds. -- NatPryce


The term English is derived from the Anglo-Saxons. Anglia (whence came the Angles) is in east England, and Saxony (w.c.t. Saxons) is in Germany. Three of the Federal German Republic's current Länder mention Saxony (Sachsen) in their names; Niedersachsen (along the coast), Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt, covering a region from the North Sea coast to the Czech border. They - what we know as the Anglo-Saxons - were a Germanic tribe who started settling Britain after Rome pulled out; the most convincing historical accounts (to me, of course) say they didn't massacre the Celtic-slightly-assimilated-to-Rome population, but simply forbade the local men from marrying and raised the children of mixed marriages as Germanic, not Celtic.

Over the course of the next few hundred years, the island - especially the North, and lowlands Scotland - was also settled by Scandinavian Germanic speakers, notably people from Jutland, in Denmark. Cultural and linguistic differences did exist, but were not enough to prevent integration. A side effect of this integration was that English became one of the less morphologically complicated languages out there, and that Scandinavian Germanic speakers and Dutch people are among those who find it easiest to sound well in as a second language. (Standard German, Hochdeutsch, is based on a dialect that was geographically quite far away from the regions whose language English derived from. Since, in Northern Germany today, more people probably speak Hochdeutsch natively than the dialect[1] of the region (Plattdeutsch), native German speakers tend not to sound as well. That, and their American TV is dubbed, whereas Scandinavia and the Netherlands have subtitles :-)

[1] Here, by dialect I mean language of the same family as the one beside it, the latter having an army and navy. So, Provençal is a dialect, Breton isn't :-) .

The term British, I believe, comes from Brittany, a region of Northern France. Some of the settlers of Brittany are of Celtic stock, and common origins with the Cornish.

I believe that Brittany is so named because of Britain rather than vice-versa. The Romans used to refer to Great Britain as Britannia, and I believe that it was the movement of peoples between Great and 'Little' Britain that gave Brittany its name. -- KevlinHenney This is correct. Brittany is a colony founded by refugees from the aforementioned Anglo-Saxon incursions.

Indeed. Also, remember that the name only makes sense in French nowadays, since a) the need to distinguish between Brittany (la Bretagne) and Britain (la Grande-Bretagne) doesn't arise in any other language, and b) Britain doesn't rule a silly amount of the world's surface.

The Normans, who conquered England in 1066, came over the channel from Northern France.They'd only just settled there from Scandinavia (think Norse-men). However, the proportion of Vikings to Romance (= descended from Latin) speakers was small enough that they were all already speaking French. In fact, if you study French literature in a French university to this day, they'll start you off with the earliest extant examples of the stuff, and that's from Norman nobles living in England.

It's interesting that a fairly important part of William's force actually came from Brittany.

In short, I'm not particularly sure that the English actually have a national identity. -- RogerLipscombe

Oh yes they do. What they don't have is a _racial_ identity, which is a very different thing.

This has been a key question recently, and I have come to believe that the English do have a national identity: in terms of traits and identity, what most English refer to as British is actually English! -- KevlinHenney

Another thing they don't have is a national dress. Not even an invented one like the Scots do.

Well, the English invented a national dress for the Scots - the Scots ought to invent one for the English.


... and then, of course, once there was an Empire.

Even bigger than Bill's.

There are still more bits of it about than you might expect. The reason the Americans stopped playing Cricket, apparently, was that they were not part of the BritishEmpire in around 1900 when the first list of test-playing countries was drawn up. The first international cricket match was between England and America.

''No - sorry the first international cricket match was between the USA and Canada in 1850 - an annual series that is still being played to this day. The first overseas tour by an English team was to the USA & Canada in 1850.

And cricket was a major sport in the USA (or at least parts of it - Philadelphia for instance) as late as the 1870s, but basically the Civil War killed it off as maintaining a decent wicket under fire proved to be a problem.''

What a lucky escape you had :-)

Not really. We got baseball (cf. rounders), which is nearly [twice - ed] as boring as Cricket.

Yes, what is that all about? Grown men playing rounders in their pyjamas. Hardly a fitting national sport, I'd have thought.

[Maybe, but at least deaths from rioting are kept to a reasonable level.] Violence at cricket matches in England is unheard-of. You're thinking of some other sport.

How long can a baseball match last? I doubt that many Americans would want to stretch it out for days and days...

and then not have a result!

If baseball is "nearly as boring as cricket", how long does a game last?

"Baseball has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended." -- GeorgeBernardShaw

IsCricketBoring?

A regulation baseball game is scheduled to last 9 innings (sing. inning); however, a baseball inning takes much less time than a cricket innings. If the two sides are tied after 9 innings, they continue until one team has the lead after a complete inning. Since baseball scores are typically 5-3 or 7-4, instead of 533-496, (the most common baseball score since records started being kept is 3-2. Second most common is 4-3) this makes sense. Few games go into extra innings, and fewer still go past 12 innings. In the US and Canada, the umpires do not cancel excessively-long games; at most, a game may be suspended and continued at a later date, and even then only under prescribed circumstances.

A typical game lasts three to three and a half hours, though this depends on the teams' styles. Once or twice a year, a game will take less than two hours; usually Greg Maddux is one of the pitchers. However, four-hour games are becoming more and more common. Players, managers, and sportswriters decry this, but it happens anyway. Very rarely, multiple rain delays will cause a game to last longer; perhaps the most infamous example of this was the New York at Atlanta game on 4 July 1985 when 3.5 hours of rain delays combined with 19 innings of play to cause the game to end at 4:00 AM 5 July. Then, the Atlanta management actually held the fireworks display they had planned for the American July 4th holiday. At 4:05 AM.

-- EricJablow

Baseball was originally played in England (and called base ball, in some regions). StephenJayGould mentioned it in one of his books. (Of course, the modern American game has been modified a lot since then.)


No offense intended to any involved, but this page makes me believe that you people have too much history over there. Come to Canada and relax... well... wait for summer, then come. -- RobRix (who is Canadian and a descendant of people just about everywhere in Europe)


None taken I'm sure, but this legacy is crushing: we're at the nexus of the post-colonial movement, a place where many post-colonial nations look to for - well, what? Sometimes sanctuary, sometimes retribution and sometimes leadership. The Scots, Welsh and Irish have clear and unambiguous national identities, the English on the other hand, suffer from a collective guilt complex which results in being unable to assert their essential Englishness - except that they can't define that either, because they are so diffident. The only place I have seen assertion by middle-englanders is in their own space, ie 100 yards around their front door. This is especially the case in the urban environment - living in ShepherdsBush? I have found that while all cultures and ethnicities are prepared to say they are British Asians, Black Britons or whatever, these communities never say "we're 'English'". Examination of why this is may result in a conclusion about the English vs British debate. But to return to the Bush: the WASPs here feel they can ONLY object to events and issues which directly affect them - they do not wade into to wider areas of interest because they do not feel they have the right (see http://www.greenside.org.uk). They positively shy away from asserting their social or political values into the general cultural edifice which is Urban Britain. And there it is really: Calling someone British means 'you come from the archipelago of isles north of the Channel' but calling a person 'English' is defining them by a racial and cultural stereotype - it's which being 'English' has been closely associated with the NF. -- madderfish (soon to move up to Scotland)

The middle Britain phenomena you describe is generally only prevalent in southern england (and the commuter belt stretching north and encroaching on the midlands). In Yorkshire (and probably a lot of other areas of england which I haven't been to) people have no problem stating whatever they actually feel about anything. Mind you, that might have something to do with the fact that a Yorkshireman is a Yorkshireman first, and anything else second ;)

In fact, if you are lucky, its more likely that the Yorkshireman in question will identify which riding of the county they come from first. There is a campaign for the devolution of Yorkshire, IIRC, in the same way as there is one for Cornwall (and parts of Devon)

The common ForeignersAssumptionOfBritishCulturalAssumption? is usually based on London and the surrounding areas. For the Americans out there that is like judging someone from Louisiana by your impressions and assumptions about Chicago. -- SkArcher?, long term Yorkshire resident (tho not a native)

Actually, many Americans' impressions of British culture come from (not surprisingly) MontyPython and Benny Hill. I also have a bit of influence from The Young Ones, FawltyTowers, and Are You Being Served.


It's true that there isn't much English national sentiment outside of football matches and racist organizations, but it's interesting that there definitely is regional sentiment - Yorkshiremen are Yorkshiremen and proud of it, Lancashire men are Lancashire men and (inexplicably -- AnonymousYorkshireman?) proud of it, and ditto for Londoners, Geordies, Scousers, etc. Maybe it's because we feel that we're not allowed to feel English, so either we divert our emotion downward into regional identity, or else upward and go all cosmopolitan.


Regarding the UK fielding a single team in the Olympics, while England/Scotland/Wales, etc. fielding their own football teams.

The United States fields an Olympic team. As does Puerto Rico, which is a United States possession. Both also field separate teams in other international leagues - I don't know about FIFA, but both field national basketball teams in FIBA competitions.

Why the various nations that make up the UK couldn't field separate teams, rather than one UK team, I dunno. (I suppose I could make up a wiseacre reason involving EddieTheEagle?, but I won't....)


That is because the International Olympic Committee do not judge what a country is when they let people enter, they delegate that stuff to the ISO definitions which is why places like Taiwan are in under the name of Chinese Taipei so as not to upset the PRC. Same with internet domain names except for the historical anomaly surrounding the UK and territories close to it which should all come under GB.


A short and perhaps telling distillation of the confusion, even amongst British, is as follows: Suggest to a Scot that Scotland secede from the UK; they might agree. Suggest it to a Welsh person that Wales secedes and they might tell you it is so very unlikely, but interesting. Suggest to a Yorkshire person that Yorkshire should secede, and in my experience they will buy you a beer. Suggest to an Southern English person that England should secede from the UK and they will have trouble grokking it. Then again, there was an article in TimeOut London recently suggesting (HaHaOnlySerious) that London secede from the UK.


I am from London, and have a friend in the States. He seems intent on referring to me as being "British". I, however, refer to myself as being "English". If someone asks where I am from, and I say London, many people from abroad would think "GREAT BRITAIN" or "UK" but I think England. London doesn't represent the UK to me; The UK is four very different nations, each with different traditions etc. If we picked London up and put it in Scotland it would look a little out of place! I see the UK as a merging of the four nations. England is not Great Britain to me, either. Although I have no problem saying I'm from GB, I'm more likely to say I'm from the UK. I don't know why, I think it may have something to do with where I was brought up. - By the way, the Union Jack represents the United Kingdom, NOT Great Britain as previously stated.

Confusion might arise because "English" is also a language. There is less linguistic ambiguity with "British".


CategoryCulture / CategoryOffTopic

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