Glossary of names for the British

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This article is about terms applied to people, some of which are controversial. For a discussion of the overlapping terms for states/countries/nations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, see Terminology of the British Isles. For the 1954 play, see Pommy (play).

Alternative names for people from the United Kingdom include nicknames and terms, including affectionate ones, neutral ones, and derogatory ones to describe British people, and more specifically English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people.

Terms for the British in English[edit]


Brit is a commonly used term in the United States and elsewhere, simply as a shortened form of "Briton." It was considered offensive historically,[1] but has become somewhat more neutral over time, and is increasingly used by the British themselves in international contexts.


An archaic form of "Briton," similar to "Brit", always much more used in North America than Britain itself, but even there largely outdated. An equivalent of the word "Engländer", which is the German noun for "Englishman". The term was also used extensively in the British Raj and is still used extensively in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.


The term is thought to have originated in the 1850s as "lime-juicer",[2] and was later shortened to "limey".[3] It was originally used as a derogatory word for sailors in the Royal Navy, because of the Royal Navy's practice since the beginning of the 19th century of adding lemon juice or lime juice to the sailors' daily ration of watered-down rum (known as grog), in order to prevent scurvy.[4][5]

Eventually the term lost its naval connection and was used about British people in general. In the 1880s, it was used to refer to British immigrants in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Although the term may have been used earlier in the U.S. Navy as a slang word for a British sailor or a British warship, such usage isn't documented until 1918. By 1925, its usage in American English had been extended to mean any Briton, and the expression was so commonly known that it was used in American newspaper headlines.

Pommy or Pom[edit]

The terms Pommy, Pommie and Pom, in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand usually denotes an English person (or, less commonly, people from other parts of the UK).[6] The Oxford Dictionary defines their use as "often derogatory"[7] but after complaints to the Australian Advertising Standards Board regarding five advertisements poking fun at "Poms", the board ruled in 2006 that these words are inoffensive, in part because they are "largely used in playful or affectionate terms".[8] The New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority made a similar ruling in 2010.[9]

There are several folk etymologies for "Pommy" or "Pom". The best-documented of these is that "Pommy" originated as a contraction of "pomegranate".[10][11] According to this explanation, "pomegranate" was Australian rhyming slang for "immigrant" ("Jimmy Grant").[12] Usage of "pomegranate" for English people may have been strengthened by a belief in Australia that sunburn occurred more frequently among English immigrants, turning those with fair skin the colour of pomegranates.[13] Another explanation – now generally considered to be a false etymology – was that "Pom" or "Pommy" were derived from an acronym such as POM ("Prisoner of Millbank"), POME ("Prisoner of Mother England") or POHMS ("Prisoner Of Her Majesty's Service").[14] However, there is no evidence that such terms, or their acronyms, were used in Australia when "Pom" and "Pommy" entered use there.


A slur used colloquially in Ireland, referring to the Black and Tan forces supplied by David Lloyd George to Ireland during the Irish War of Independence in order to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in dealing with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The force was composed mainly of World War I British Army veterans, who wore Khaki British Army uniforms with dark RIC overcoats and were remembered for their excessive force and violence. Thusly, the term's use is intended to bring about feelings of resentment and instil republican sentiments. By extension, Great Britain is sometimes referred to as "Tanland".


The name Tommy for any soldier in the British Army is particularly associated with World War I. The French and the British Commonwealth armies used the name "Tommy" for the British. "Tommy" is derived from the name "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 British 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 is still used today in the British Army in the abridged version "Tom", especially in the Infantry Regiments, to specifically refer to a junior enlisted soldier.

The paybooks issued to all British soldiers of World War I used the name "Tommy Atkins" to illustrate how they should be filled in.

In languages other than English[edit]


In Polish a common formal term to describe an Englishman is Anglik, derived from the Polish word for England, Anglia, with the word Brytyjczyk meaning Briton, from the Polish name for Great Britain, Wielka Brytania. Derogatory terms coined in recent years are Angol and Brytol respectively; however, due to negative connotations they are not used in formal writing or by the media.

In the Czech Republic the term Anglán is often used, which has the same roots as the Polish Anglik - the Czechs call England Anglie. This word is neither positive nor negative. However, unlike the formal Angličan, it is not used by the press because of its informality.

In Hungary the English people are called angol or in plural angolok. England is called Anglia. British people in general are called brit or in plural britek but the term is less widespread. Great Britain is called Nagy-Britannia but the United Kingdom is called Egyesült Királyság.

A pejorative German name for the British is Inselaffe, which means 'island ape' or 'island monkey'.[15][16]


Several European slang terms for the English are apparently derived from the association of the English (and the British more generally) with eating roast beef.

The original explanation of the French term rosbif is that it referred to the English tradition of cooking roast beef,[17] and especially to the song The Roast Beef of Old England.[18]

In Portugal, the term bife (literally meaning 'steak', but sounding like "beef") is used as a slang term to refer to the English.[19] There is a feminine form, bifa, mainly used to refer to English female tourists[citation needed].


In one of the Vindolanda tablets from Hadrian's Wall the pejorative Latin word Brittunculi (wretched little Britons)[20] is used – presumably by a Roman official – in a commentary on the natives' military tactics.


Afrikaans speakers may use the term rooinek (literally 'red neck', another reference to sunburning) in reference to the British, or to White South Africans of British descent.[21] During the Second Boer War, the British became known as khakis, in reference to the colour of their uniforms – which, by then, was no longer the red coats as those were unsuitable for the South African climate.[22][23]

Another common term used by Afrikaners to describe the British in South Africa is soutie or soutpiel, meaning 'salty' or 'salty penis' respectively. The meaning behind this is that they have one foot in Britain and one foot in South Africa, leaving their penis to hang in the salty sea water.[24]

In the East African Bantu languages mzungu has come to mean any white European but more often than not especially the British or English, due to their colonial past in the region.

Middle East[edit]

During the British Mandate in Palestine, British troops were often referred to as כלניות or Kalaniot, being Hebrew for Anemones, reflecting the troops' red berets.

South Asia[edit]

In Urdu/Hindi, the term Angrez is used to refer to the British. This word has its origin in Portuguese Inglês, meaning 'Englishman'.[25][26] An interesting derivative is Angrezan or Angrezni, meaning an Englishwoman.[26] Among the Europeans, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in India. The influx of the Portuguese led to language contact between their tongue and the local languages. As a consequence of this, a Portuguese pidgin developed that served as the lingua franca.[27]

The term Farangi has been used in Persian language since the 13th century to refer to Europeans, especially Western Europeans. Urdu/Hindi has adopted this word from Persian and it is used to refer to the Europeans in general (including the British).

The adjective Gora (Gori for females) is also commonly used amongst South Asians and South Asian British to refer to white Britons, although the term literally translates to 'fair-skinned one', and thus could and is applied to individuals of any ethnicity with a fair complexion, including south Asians themselves. The adjective has also been used as a noun to describe white people – hence its potential as a racial slur.[28]

In Nepal, the British are often referred to as Kuires/Khaires, which means 'people of white or pale colour'. It is also used in general for any European person with white skin.

Ingraj is used in Maharashtra (Marathi) and West Bengal (Bengali) in India to refer to British people.

Malayalis of Kerala use the term Sayyip to refer to a male westerner. The feminine equivalent is Madaamma.[citation needed]

In Assam (which became part of British India in 1828), the British are called Boga Bongal (literally meaning 'white foreigners' or 'white intruders'). Bongal was a derogatory word for foreigners and invaders in Assam under Ahom rule and it still is used.

In Tamil Nadu the Tamil word Vellaikaaran means 'white man' and usually refers to British rulers during freedom struggles in the 18th to 19th century, when prominent freedom fighters like 'Kappalottiya Tamilian' V.O.Chidambaranar, Subramanya Bharathi, Subramanya Siva, Kamarajar and Veerapaandi Kattabomman existed. It is used in the present day to refer anyone who is White with European origin; many rural Tamil villagers still believe that all Europeans are English. Vellaikaari means white woman and Vellaikaarargal or Vellaiyargal is the plural form meaning white people.

Suddo and Ingrisikarayo are Sri Lankan and Sinhalese names for British and other western white-skinned people.[citation needed]

South-East Asia[edit]

In Malaysia, one common Malay equivalent is Mat Salleh. The term may have originated from the general depiction of British colonial sailors who were often drunk (Mad Sailors); due to the locals' unfamiliarity with English, it became corrupted as mat salleh (Mat and Salleh are both typical Malay names). Another possible origin of the phrase is the Mat Salleh Rebellion, led by North Borneo chief Mat Salleh, against the British North Borneo Company during the late 19th century. Another alternative to mat salleh is orang putih (literally 'white people' in Malay) or its shortened rural form, omputih. In ancient Malaccan times, the term orang deringgi was also used.

In Thai, the word anggrit (อังกฤษ) is used to described both the English in particular, and the British in general. In everyday speech the word Farang (ฝรั่ง) is usually used to describe British people as well as other light-skinned Europeans. Some foreigners regard this word as racist. In journalism, the expression puu dee (ผู้ดี) meaning 'nobleman' is sometimes used to denote 'English'.[citation needed]

South-east Asian Hokkien and Teochew speakers also call the British angmor lang (紅毛人), which literally means 'red-haired people'. One possible origin of this term is the association of red-haired people with the British Isles.

East Asia[edit]

The following terms are used to mean 'Britain' or 'British' and use etymologies mostly unrelated to "Britain":

These terms are also used to refer to England in unofficial contexts. More formal names also exist, such as the Chinese 聯合王國 Liánhéwángguó and Japanese 連合王国 Rengōōkoku literally meaning 'United Kingdom'. Separate words exist in all of these languages for each of the constituent parts of the UK, including England, although, as elsewhere, there is little awareness of correct usage. The Chinese Dàbùlièdiān (Hanzi: 大不列颠) is used for historical purposes to mean 'Great Britain'. The first character means 'Great' and the other three have unrelated meanings, having been selected for the sound instead of meaning.

The Chinese Yīngguó and the Japanese Eikoku are written identically as 英国, where the first character 英 has no meaning in this context, although in Chinese, 英 is phonetically similar to "Eng", as in "England", and the second character 国 means 'country', 'nation', or 'kingdom'. Korean 영국 also means 'glorious' (영 yeong) and nation (국 guk). A British person is 영국 사람 yeongguk saram, literally meaning Britain person.

In Japanese, the term Igirisu (Katakana: イギリス) is used interchangeably with Eikoku, but is considered slightly more foreign because it comes from the Portuguese word Inglês (English) – it should be noted that, despite this origin, Igirisu refers to the United Kingdom as a whole, and not specifically to England, which is Ingurando (Katakana: イングランド).

Names for the peoples of the British Isles[edit]

Languages that do not distinguish "English" from "British"[edit]

In many languages, the equivalent terms for 'English' and 'England' are often used interchangeably with 'British' and 'Britain', and this is also relatively common in many non-British varieties of English, although frowned upon by most people who are British but not English.[citation needed]

In Turkish 'İngiltere' is used for both Britain and England, despite there being a separate word for Britain, 'Britanya'. Welsh people in particular are very often referred to in French as 'Anglais' rather than 'Gallois', in Russian as 'англичанин' Angličanin, and so on.[citation needed]

The same occurs rather less frequently in the case of individuals from Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, even those countries may still sometimes be considered to form part of Angleterre or the equivalent. In French, the word britannique ('British') is restricted to more official contexts and tends to be used for governments rather than for individuals.[citation needed]

In Spain the distinction between the English, Scots, Welsh and their mother countries is, as in Hispanic America, almost completely non-existent. This is reflected in the media where the British government, the army, etc., are all referred to as inglés (English).[citation needed] They are also called "Goray" or "Angrej" in Hindi/Urdu.

Alternative names for the English[edit]

  • Sassenach – used to describe the English, by their immediate Gaelic-speaking neighbours: the Scots, the Irish and the Manx. The term is derived from the Gaelic word Sasanach (alt. Sasannach), in older literature Sacsannach / Sagsananch, from the Old English term "Seaxon~Saxon" "Saxon".
  • The Cornish word for an Englishman is "Sows", and the Cornish word for the English language is "Sowsnek". These are also from the Old English term "Seaxon~Saxon" "Saxon".
  • les goddams – During the Hundred Years' War, the French took to calling the English les goddams because of their frequent use of expletives.
  • In Welsh, Saeson (singular: Sais) – from the Latin Saxones / Saxo and a reference, as in other Celtic tongues, to the Saxons – means English people (or sometimes simply English-speakers).
  • White settlers is a facetious name given to English commuters who choose to live north of the border, especially in the Lothians.

Alternative names for Scottish[edit]

Alternative names for Welsh[edit]

Alternative names for Irish[edit]

  • Paddy
  • Mick

Regional Alternative names[edit]

In most cases regional names are associated with those who speak with a specific regional accent, distinct to the area.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Etymology Online "Brit"". 
  2. ^ "lime–juic·er". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  3. ^ name=Dictionary>"limey". Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  4. ^ Oxford Dictionaries: Limey Retrieved 2011-07-06
  5. ^ "Why are British people called "limeys"?". Ask Yahoo!. Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  6. ^ Merv Webster (2006). "It's no excuse I fear". Keeping the culture. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "Pommy - definition of Pommy in English from the Oxford dictionary". Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Pom ruled not offensive". The Sunday Telegraph (Australia). Retrieved 5 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "'Pommy git' okay, BSA rules – National – NZ Herald News". 6 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  10. ^ Phrase Finder is copyright Gary Martin, 1996-2015. All rights reserved. "Pommy-bashing". Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  11. ^ "Definition of pom". Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  12. ^ Tom McArthur (ed.), 1992, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p384.
  13. ^ Boycott, Geoffrey (10 January 2008). "Cricket must crack down on the abuse – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  14. ^ " "Etymology of Pommy"". 
  15. ^ " "Inselaffe"". 
  16. ^ Brown, Jonathan (28 September 2006). "Terms of abuse and affection: Do they mean us? They surely do!". The Independent (London: Independent Digital News and Media Limited). Retrieved 28 February 2012. 
  17. ^ "Wiktionary "Rosbif"". 
  18. ^ "BBC – Why do the French call the British 'the roast beefs'?". BBC News. 3 April 2003. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  19. ^ "Lisbonblog "Bife"". 
  20. ^ "Vindolanda Tablet 164 Leaf No. 1 (front)". Archived from the original on 24 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
  21. ^ Donald G. McNeil Jr (11 October 1998). "Like Politics, All Political Correctness Is Local". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 October 2009. 
  22. ^ "British Military Terms and Soldier Slang". 
  23. ^ "List of South African Slang Words". 
  24. ^ " "soutpiel"". 
  25. ^ A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary by F. Steinngass, New Delhi 2005, p. 114. ISBN 81-206-0670-1
  26. ^ a b "Portuguese loanwords in Urdu", Dawn News, May 31, 2010
  27. ^ Sailaja, Pingali (2009), Indian English, Edinburgh University Press, p. 96.
  28. ^ Terry Victor; Tom Dalzell (1 December 2007). The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. p. 1991. ISBN 978-1-134-61533-9. Retrieved 23 February 2014.