Alternative words for British

From Academic Kids

There are many alternative ways to describe nationals of the United Kingdom. The usual terms are the adjective British and noun Briton (see also demonym). The latter is sometimes abbreviated to Brit although this is to be avoided in formal contexts. Some other terms are humorous or derogatory slang, and used mainly by people from other countries, although they can be used in a self-deprecating way by British people themselves. These include Limey, Pom, and Pommy. Other terms are serious or tongue-in-cheek attempts to coin words as alternatives to the potentially ambiguous standard terms.



Limey is an old American and Canadian slang nickname for the British, initially specifically sailors. The term is believed to derive from lime-juicer, referring to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy practice of supplying lime juice (an antiscorbutic) to British sailors to prevent scurvy in the 19th century. The term is believed to have originated in Australia in the 1880s. A fake etymology is that it is a derivative of "Gor-blimey" ("god blind me!").

The term Pommy for a British person is commonly used in Australian English and New Zealand English, and is often shortened to Pom. The origin of this term is uncertain. A number of fake etymologies have sprung up, mostly along the lines that POM is an acronym for "Prisoner of Mother England" or somesuch, referring to the fact that the earliest Australian settlers were convicts, sentenced to transportation. None of these explanations bears up under scrutiny, and the use of acronyms is largely a late twentieth century phenomenon. A more likely etymology is that it is a contraction of "pomegranates", a red skinned fruit, which bears a more than passing resemblance to the typical pale complexioned Englishman's skin after his first few days living under the hot Australian sun. The use of the word 'Pom' may be considered mildly derogatory - some may use it to cause offence, but it is also used in other situations as a friendly derogatory term among people who know each other well, if one of them is English and the other Australian.

In South Africa the term 'Pom' may also be used, while Afrikaans speakers use the term rooinek (literally 'red neck', on account of the sunburnt skin).

In India, the term 'Britisher' may still be encountered, but is largely obsolete elsewhere.

John Bull was originally a character created by John Arbuthnot in 1712 to satirise the Whig war party. Later in the 18th century, British satirical artists James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank contrasted the stout and healthy British cartoon character with scrawny French revolutionary sans-culottes Jacobins. In the 19th century the U.S. cartoonist Thomas Nast also drew the character.

The name Tommy for a soldier in the British Army is particularly associated with World War I. German soldiers would call out to Tommy across no-man's land if they wished to speak to a British soldier. The French, and Commonwealth forces also used the name. Tommy is derived from Tommy Atkins which had been used as a generic name for a soldier for many years (and had been used as an example name on army registration forms). The precise origin is the subject of some debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743. Rudyard Kipling published the poem Tommy (part of the Barrack Room Ballads) in 1892 and in 1893 the music hall song Private Tommy Atkins was published with words by Henry Hamilton and music by S. Potter. In 1898 William McGonagall wrote Lines In Praise of Tommy Atkins.

The term Brit seems to have become popular in more recent times, particularly in US usage. The term is not usually offered offensively and is generally not perceived as such.

Proposed alternatives

Use of alternative terms has been practiced and advocated by some people to distinguish UK nationals from people living specifically in Great Britain or the British Isles. In practice, this is not usually necessary in British English because British without any modifier (like British cooking) is usually understood to refer to the UK, and the term British Isles has become increasingly unacceptable to people in the Republic of Ireland. By contrast, while Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain, it is part of the United Kingdom, and the Unionist community defines itself as British.

Other languages

In much the same way as the word 'England' is used (incorrectly) to refer to 'Britain', the term 'English' is used interchangeably with 'British' in many languages, hence in French, a British man is called un Anglais, while a British woman is une Anglaise, even though they may be from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, when it is specifically known that the person is from Scotland, French people always call that person un(e) Écossais(e), and they wouldn't call that person un(e) Anglais(e). If the person comes from Wales or Northern Ireland, the distinction is more blurry for French people, and those people will often be called Anglais, although strictly speaking they should be called un(e) Irlandais(e) (Irishman) or un(e) Gallois(e) (Welshman). People from the Republic of Ireland are always called Irlandais of course, and never Anglais. The literal translation of 'British', britannique, is used more in official contexts, for governments rather than for individuals: this is reflected in the description of the monarch as His/Her Britannic Majesty. Less formally the French also call the British les rosbifs (roast beef), due to the fondness of the British for this particular dish.

Sometimes the concepts of "British" and "English" even get turned the other way around. There have been cases (such as in the Finnish press) where the writer has divided "England" into "Britain" and "Scotland", for example as in: "Of the English, the Brits are often more stuck-up than the Scots." However, this is (fortunately) quite a rare phenomenon.

See also

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