English to English

On saying ‘English’ when we mean ‘British’


- Martin Pengelly

A reader has complained about our usage of ‘English’ when we really mean ‘British’ and vice versa. I can promise you, reader whom I suspect by your blog name may be Welsh, that I, an Englishman, would never do this.

It’s true, “English” and “British” are separate things – as are “Welsh”, “Scottish” and (some of the, but let’s not go there right now) “Northern Irish”. And so, yes, you can’t say “English” when you mean “British” when referring to the nationality of things, even though they are also sort of the same thing.

Also, dear American historians and op-ed writers, you can’t refer just to England when you mean the hideous, oppressive, tyrannical and monarchical United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That’s all of us.

Anyway, the title of this blog is “English to English”, which refers to Britain and the US being two countries separated by a common language. And, Gaelic or Welsh not being widely spoken in north America, that language is English.

(Interesting* point: there are Welsh speakers in South America, in Puerto Madryn on the Patagonian coast. Hilariously**, a few years ago a Welsh national rugby coach decided his team’s calls should be made in Welsh, as no one else would be able to understand them. More hilariously still***, that coach’s next game was against Argentina in… Puerto Madryn. Wales lost.)

Back to the point: reader, I suggest you direct your ire towards Hollywood instead. There, you see, “English” and “British” are irritatingly interchangeable, usually when referring in historical epics to hideous, oppressive, tyrannical and monarchical baddies. And so, to stir things up if nothing else, I suggest we have a conversation about how such stock “British” baddies might equally be played by Scotsmen, Welshmen and (some) Irishmen, as by Englishmen.

Advantage: US – because you don’t have to sort this kind of stuff out.

*To me

**Still to me

***Very definitely only to me