So, I know this is not what the average politically correct* Briton (or NZer-Englander) is supposed to think, but I really don’t get why British rather than English is supposed to be the more acceptable term.
There’s some lovely etymology on the word Briton here, btw.
Yes, I know the BNP/NF took St George, the George Cross etc as their own, but if they’re stupid enough to think that a middle eastern saint, also revered in Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia (the clue’s in the name!), is an English saint, then surely that just shows up their ignorance?
Because it’s British/Britain that seems like the problematic wording to me … I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Scottish or Welsh friend describe themselves as British. So surely to call oneself British is to buy into the idea that Britain is composed of England, Wales, Scotland (and, depending on who’s speaking, Northern Ireland) and all of those places and peoples have had very uncertain/unhappy relationships with the notion of Britain throughout history and often still do today. Britain, to me, sounds like the name of the coloniser, the usurper of other people’s countries. Making Indians and Jamaicans and Aotearoans (etc) ‘British’ is the dodgy thing, surely?
Yes, I get that it’s a particular land-mass, but so is the whole of America and that’s clearly divided into Canada, North America, and the countries that North Americans and Europeans like to lump together as “South America”.
I also get that ‘English’ was grabbed by the BNP (as above re St George) but why on earth let them decide what we perceive English to mean?
Yes, England also has a brutal colonising and warlike past (often in the name of ‘Britain’). There aren’t many modern nations that don’t. But England also has a mythology and storytelling tradition all of its own. It has the Green Man and the rising sap and the Faerie Queene and Morris Dancers and river spirits and the White Worm and living land and mountain giants and Chaucer and Shakespeare and Spencer and Pope so much more. It has real diversity in the traditions of the different shires/counties. It has a history that is part of but separate to that of Scotland and Wales. England has good stuff. Like Billy Bragg.
(I look forward to the slew of comments explaining that I haven’t got my history right and the Green Man is really Welsh and Morris Dancers are Irish and if I’d been in England in the late 70s I wouldn’t want to say I was English. But I wasn’t. I was living my teenage New Zealand life, glad to have been both born in London and growing up in Tokoroa, and thinking that Britain was the name of the colonising power that took over Aotearoa …)
And speaking of 23rd April, this, in memory of Blair Peach. I remember us being so proud he was a New Zealander. I’m sure his family and loved ones would have preferred him alive though, to our kiwi admiration for (another**) anti-Nazi NZer.
* which I am, and proudly (left, small-l-liberal, bleeding heart, yadda yadda)
** it’s coming up to ANZAC Day, from WW1 & Gallipoli yes, but in NZ & Australia also used to commemorate the sacrifice of many other anti-Nazi fighters.
It was James the First/Sixth came up with the idea of the Union Flag representing his united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under one crown. Unfortunately, the English Parliament was not having it and vetoed the idea.
History has a funny way of being forgotten, which is one of the great shows on Radio 4 with Michael Portillo. One forgets that the North African pirates raid for slaves along the Great Britain and Irish coast taking slaves. The whole town of Baltimore was ‘taken’ in the late 1620’s or 1630’s away from Ireland to Morocco. Charles I decided that it was a wise idea to build a navy to defend his lands, unfortunately, the English Parliamentarians thought it was bad idea levelling a ship tax on inland towns leading to disastrous consequences for the whole country.
History does have more than one side of the story to tell. A lot of English mythology has been lost and over laid. If you can find a copy of Geoffrey Ashe’s The Mythology of Britain, which dissects these legends a la Robert Graves Greek Myths. In fact you can have my copy if you want, as it is probably going out.
wonderful. thank you. and I’ll find the myths book as I very much need it for a new project. very grateful.
Hmmmm. I am ethnically English — I learnt this very clearly by being dragged out to Australia as a child. Couldn’t wait to get back to England and it’s here I feel at home — I like Scotland & Wales, but it’s England that’s home (and the north at that). But I will speak of my nationality as British, although the English obsession with accents — as well as the Australian dislike of Poms — means I sound Australian (I had my RP accent literally beaten out of me in the playground — the other side of the Australian ‘fair go’).
I think it’s the long comeback from running an Empire where we unthinkingly imposed “Englishness” everywhere as a kind of totalising ideology. And made the word “England” stand for “the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.”
So I don’t have a problem with it really — language has a history, and *does* things, and talking about Britain and the 4 nations is a way of recognising that, and marking that it is not that way (totalising Englishness) any more. I like that. I spent long enough in Australia to understand about federations.
OTOH, I’m currently trying to write something about the 19C push for a national theatre, and trying to articulate just what “Englishness” is … there’s another conundrum!