Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Andrew's Day: Word usage

Here's a little lesson in word usage, just in time for St. Andrew's Day.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is recognized by the world as a single country. It is made up of four "regions": England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. At one point Scotland and Wales were separate kingdoms in their own right (though this an oversimplification with regard to Wales). When talking about the country of Britain as a whole, people outside of Britain (actually, people outside of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have an annoying habit of calling the entire island nation "England". This is not the case. England is the biggest piece of Britain, and is the majority of the nation by land mass and population, but it is not correct to use the word "England" when referring to Britain and the United Kingdom.

Even more mysteriously, I hear people in North America call folks in Britain "English" but call the people of England "Brits". I have no idea where this comes from! Scots and Welsh are "Brits". The people of England alone are "English". Now that you've been informed, you will have your knuckles rapped if you use it incorrectly!

Oh, and while we're at it, let's mention a couple of other things. "Great Britain" is technically England, Scotland, and Wales. "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, there is also "the British Isles", which includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. The three latter are special. They are "Crown dependencies". They are countries in their own right, and they have their own governments, but they are owned by the British crown, and the British parliament extends some control over them. They are not, however, part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Clear as mud, right?

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