Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Reprise of the Great British Venn Diagram

Faithful and regular readers of this humble offering of a blog (Hi Mr Seat!) will no doubt be aware of my predilection for mathematics and linguistic pedantry.

So you will assume that this would be warming the cockles of my heart like a family pack of super strength heart-cockle warmers. The article starts magnificently:
There's some recent evidence that President George W. Bush really does believe in morphological regularization of toponymic adjectives.
Those Yanks and their fondness for the letter 'Zee'. Doncha just love 'em?
It then displays the Venn Diagram about which we have posted. Excellent! A little more mathematics and slightly less sociology. Hurrah!

The table that places adjectives against proper nouns is an amusing diversion. But then disaster strikes. A correspondence ensues and the author sees fit to post an addendum from one Lora Totten-Schwartz:
I'm emailing you to pester you (as I'm sure others are/will be) about calling people from Great Britain "British."

I'm trying very hard not to say, "G'wan, say that to a Scotsman!" with a giggle. People who live outside of England are not British.
WHAT? What in the name of Arse? Did I hear that right?
That's why they have that "United Kingdom" thingy in the official name of the country. Scots are Scottish, Welsh are Welsh, Irish are Irish, English are either English or British.

That Prof Liberman sees fit to post this at all is frankly staggering. What comes next is beyond the pale. From the author himself, by way of explanation:
Of course she's talking about people, whereas Aidan is talking about places and political institutions. So my ignorance is becoming deeper and more nuanced by the minute.
Oh no it isn't. Deeper I grant you, but nuanced? No. Just plain ignorant.

PG Prescription:
A Custard Pie for Ms Totten-Schwartz. Prof Liberman will be lucky to escape a thorough application of the birch if he is ever so unwise as to get within range of the Gentleman Usher of the Cat-o-Nine-Tails....


UPDATE: Welcome to Language Log readers. Prof Liberman's profuse apology is very much accepted. The Gentleman Usher of the Cat-o-Nine-Tails has been informed and instructed to offer tea and cake, as opposed to the birch, should the noble and learned Professor ever wish to come and discuss Correctness Conditions, gerundives or any other matter.

But Ms Totten-Schwartz should still watch her back....


Akaky said...

And I was under the impression that when it came to the population of Northern Ireland, the Loyalists were British but never Irish, and the Nationalists were Irish and never British. So this makes the people on the Isles of Scilly what, exactly? And would it be correct to call a ultrachauvinist from these isles too Scilly for words?

The Pedant-General said...


That really depends upon who one is talking to. Whilst many would agree with you, I see "Scots" and "British" as a sort of "First Equal", in that they aren't really directly comparable on a sort of ranking scale.

Alec Salmond (Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, who wants independence for Scotland), to pluck a name at random, would reverse your order. (But then he might even deny the "British" bit entirely. Moron.)


Let's not go there (unless we are on holiday). We might also wish to avoid discussing what one should call a woman who lives on the Isle of Man...



Anonymous said...

Er... So what am I? Born in Manchester to a long line of Lancs, and yet on my passport it says "European Union". My mate, born and bred Hong Kong to a long line of Hongkers, has the same passport as mine but it has "United Kingdom" printed on the top. How unfair is that? Why am I lumped in with the French (etc.!) and my now-technically-classed-as-Chinese mate has a passport (the only type?) from the United Kingdom??
And my Scots mate is EXTREMELY adamant that she is not English... but she does accept "British" on official documents (but only if they don't accept "Scottish" as a nationality).
But I have to say, what a numpty saying only English people are British...

The Pedant-General said...


That sounds like an oldish passport.

when they abolished the lovely old big blue passports (BASTARDS!), the EU was still the EC. The first red passports had "United Kingdom" in big letters at the top, with "European Community" in smaller letters below.

Following Maastricht (or Amsterdam. One of them anyway. Yawn), the EC morphed inexplicably into the EU, and this took precedence.

Your Hongkers chum's passport must be comfortably out of date by now?

As for what you are: well.... continuing the EU theme, you aren't really English, because England doesn't exist you see. (It's actually just a collection of regions. Yours includes Liverpool I'm afraid)

And your Scots mate is quite correct. I have to admit to ticking "Other" then writing "Scots" in any section on Ethnicity....

Lord Pasternack said...

One would call a woman from the Isle of Man a Manx woman.

But even the men are Lesbians on the isle of Lesbos off Greece!

And If I'm not talking bollocks completely, I think that Sappho was from Lesbos. There is/was quite a sapphic traditition on Lesbos.

(If it wasn't Lesbos, it certainly was an island about that area. I don't know - they were all bloody lesbians around there!)

Now just imagine the conundrums (or is that "conundra"?) that that would cause!

Interviewer: Er, we asked for your nationality, not your sexuality... etc etc.

On another note - nationality is distinct from ethnicity. Er, get that right, etc. And someone said something rather funny to me the other day when I was talking French:

"We're Scottish. We speak English," said he. And I laughed.

Sometimes I wonder if we'd be better off if the Romans slaughtered most of the indigenous men up here and shagged all the women, you know...

Anonymous said...


Wanted to make sure I had my facts right, so I've got my passport here now... Granted, I did get mine in 2000, and the cover has been faded off so that it's now just burgundy... I find it says "European Union" at the very top of the cover, and underneath in smaller letters it says "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". On page one (that has no page number) it's got European Union printed at the top, and all the foreign languages for the same, then in large letters around the middle, UK of GB and NI (in full), then that again written in about 15 languages. And then, just in case you weren't sure, it says PASSPORT near the bottom, coupled with my number. Odd.
Mind you, it's the old 32 page thing that cost about 30 something quid when I got it.

My Hongker friend's passport is only 3 years old... but apparently it's a BNO edition, whatever that means. It has nearly the same format except on the last page before the ID and photo, the page reserved for "observations". There he's got some paragraph about how he's only a lowly BNO and can't do some stuff that a full UK passport holder can. Which is bollocks, as I don't hold a UK passport, but an EU one...

Anal of me to look, I know, but it's odd coming back here and finding no-one has ID cards. I still carry my HK one with me cos it feels odd not to have some form of ID in my pocket ~ my ancient driver's license (i.e. green and pink paper!) is back home in HK. For this reason my passport is in my bag in case I have to go to the bank and they refuse to believe I am me. Again.

Whoops, bit long. Apologies!

Anonymous said...

How dare you include me in the scousers circle, anyway!!! Them's fighting words!

And I think next time someone asks, I'll say "German/Nordic decent, lately Anglo-Saxon". That should confuse the buggers.

p.s. nice blog. When people like me aren't cluttering it up :)

MatGB said...

PG, regarding what you call girls from Manx? "Easy" seems to fit the ones I've met (*ducks and heads for cover from his enraged liberal friends*).

Regarding passports and the EU and the EC and, well...

Maastricht (1992) created the EU. The EU consisted (then) of 3 things; the EC (which was a part of it), and the new CFSP and, um, something else, could be justice and home affairs. anyway, I read it once, I was bored. I also read Nice and Amsterdam, one of them dumped the distinctions, and the "three pillars" were made into just the EU because, well, no bugger could tell which was which anyway.

Are you bored yet? OK, I'll shut up.

Soupdragon? I have a simple answer to the difference between Mancs and Scouse. They're all Northern. Then again, where I'm from, Bristol and Brighton are Northern...

Anonymous said...

Whatever it says on the outside of the passport at least on the inside front cover it still spells out that Her Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires - in the Name of Her Majesty - to admit the bearer without let or hindrance... (now my memory gives out)...I can't quite see summoning up Jack Straw to assist one's passage through US Immigration would be much help now, though.

The Pedant-General said...


"p.s. nice blog. When people like me aren't cluttering it up :)"

On the contrary: I am simply delighted to have your contribution.

Apart from this of course:
"Anal of me to look, I know, but it's odd coming back here and finding no-one has ID cards. I still carry my HK one with me cos it feels odd not to have some form of ID in my pocket"

We will have no apologia for ID cards on this site if you please....


"Soupdragon? I have a simple answer to the difference between Mancs and Scouse. They're all Northern. Then again, where I'm from, Bristol and Brighton are Northern..."

Quite so. Just as long as you note that the insalubrious soubriquet "Northern" ceases to apply North of the Border....


You are displaying the "BeyondTheBypassPhobia" so common in Edinburgh lawyers. We know this because you do not, as I do, have your passport in your briefcase (just in case).

The text, in all its magnificence, with which you are fumbling is:

" Her Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires - in the Name of Her Majesty - all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary."

Summoning up Jack Straw might not help, but that is not what you are doing: you are getting Jack Straw to summon HM, give or take the rather unpleasant overtones of witchcraft (you know what these Johnnys at the FCO are like....).

Toodle Pip!

Lord Pasternack said...

Now, what exactly does "toodle pip" mean?

Anonymous said...

Just to internationalise the confusion a bit further, what is the correct name for the citizens of the United States of America? A Venn diagram would be informative, but I have no idea how to post one. 'American' surely refers to all those people inhabiting the continent(s) of North and South America. Central Americans come from the bit in the middle, or maybe only from Kentucky?

Akaky said...

Tish and tosh, good sirrah! Whilst any person from Latin America will concur with your theory that all persons born in the Americas are ipso facto Americans, since they are taught in their schools, as is the case in Europe as well, I believe, that there is only one continent in this neck of the woods, that continent being called America, and that the largish nation occupying the most habitable regions of North America have therefore wrongly appropriated the name American for their exclusive use; Central and South Americans refer to the inhabitants of this large nation as gringos, norteamericanos, or as estadounidenses, this last meaning something like Unitedstatesians, which, frankly, I dont think is going to go over big here, the simple reality of the situation is that the inhabitants of the United States are Americans whether our confreres here in the Western Hemisphere like it or not, if for no other reason than we have more nukes than they do. And people from Kentucky are Kentuckians and not Central Americans; how can Kentucky be Central American when it is a border state? I mean, really!

Anonymous said...

Thnaks for your enlightening smackdown! It is said that we learn something new every day, and after reading your comment, I'm about a week ahead of myself. Brilliant!! time to put my feet up.
I think you're right, "My fellow unitedstatesians" doesn't have the same ring to it - in fact, no ring at all.
But what about the Canadians - do they have a place in the great family of Americans? Cold Americans? Wannabe Americans?
Just kidding, I love Canadians..and I've offended enough sensibilities already.

MatGB said...

PG; you're right, North of the Border is no longer 'Northern', it becomes 'foreign parts I've yet to encounter'. To my shame, I've never gone further north than Yorkshire; I hope to change that at some point this year; you're all nuts.

Fisharefun? The correct term for citizens of the USA, in terms of collective noun? All the words that spring to mind are horribly innapropriate I'm afraid. Besides, I've met a number of USAians that aren't stupid. This did surprise me, but I guess media perception and the voting numbers don't give a full picture.