Glossary of names for the British

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This glossary of names for the British 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. Many of these terms may vary between offensive, derogatory, neutral and affectionate depending on a complex combination of tone, facial expression, context, usage, speaker and shared past history.

Terms for the British in English[edit]


Brit is a commonly used term in the United States, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere, simply as a shortened form of from "Britain".[1]


An archaic form of "Briton", similar to "Brit", being much more frequently used in North America than Britain itself, but even there, it is outdated. An equivalent of the word "Engländer", which is the German noun for "Englishman". The term was also used extensively during the period of British rule in India and is still used in the Indian subcontinent.[citation needed]


The term 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 emigrants in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. 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.[citation needed]

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] Newspapers in Australia were using the term by 1912.[7] The Oxford Dictionary defines its use as "often derogatory"[8] but after complaints to the Australian Advertising Standards Board regarding five advertisements using the term "Poms", the board ruled in 2006 that these words are inoffensive, in part because they are "largely used in playful or affectionate terms".[9] The New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority made a similar ruling in 2010.[10] The BBC, a British news broadcaster has used the phrase upon occasion.[11] Disputes about whether the term is offensive have been occurring since 1925.[12]

There are several folk etymologies for "Pommy" or "Pom". The best-documented of these is that "Pommy" originated as a contraction of "pomegranate".[13][12][14] According to this explanation, "pomegranate" was Australian rhyming slang for "immigrant" ("Jimmy Grant").[15] Usage of "pomegranate" for English people may have been strengthened by a belief in Australia that sunburn occurred more frequently amongst English immigrants, turning those with fair skin the colour of pomegranates.[16] 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").[17] However, there is no evidence that such terms, or their acronyms, were used in Australia when "Pom" and "Pommy" entered use there. Other theories are that it comes from the use of "pom-pom" guns by the British in the First and Second Boer Wars, from a corruption of "Tommy Atkins", or from "Pompey", a nickname for Portsmouth.[18]


A pejorative 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 combating the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The force was composed mainly of First World War British Army veterans, who wore distinctive Khaki British Army uniforms with dark RIC overcoats. The term's use is often used in Irish republican contexts. By extension, Great Britain is sometimes referred to as "Tanland".[citation needed]


The name Tommy for any soldier in the British Army is particularly associated with World War I. The German,[19] the French and the British Commonwealth armies used the name "Tommy" for British soldiers. "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.[20]

In languages other than English[edit]


In Finnish the abbreviation of iso-britannialainen (literally "Great/Large Briton") Britti is colloquially most commonly used for a British person, often also referring interchangeably to a person from England.

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 or disdainful (or sometimes just amicable) 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 carried no derogatory connotations. 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.

Inselaffe / Insel-Affe[edit]

Inselaffe ("island ape") is a pejorative German term[21][22][23] allegedly dating back to English scientists Darwin and Wallace's publications on evolution.[citation needed]


The original explanation of the French term rosbif is that it referred to the English tradition of cooking roast beef, and especially to the song "The Roast Beef of Old England".[24]

In Portugal, the term bife (literally meaning 'steak', but sounding like "beef") is used as a slang term to refer to the English.[25] There is a feminine form, bifa, mainly used to refer to English female tourists in Portugal.[citation needed]

Les goddams[edit]

Les goddams (sometimes les goddems[26] or les goddons[27]) is an obsolete ethnic slur historically used by the French to refer to the English, based on their frequent expletives.[28] The name originated during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) between England and France, when English soldiers achieved notoriety among the French for their frequent use of profanity and in particular the interjection "God damn".[29][30][31]


In one of the Vindolanda tablets from Hadrian's Wall the pejorative Latin word Brittunculi (wretched little Britons)[32] is used – presumably by a Roman official – in a commentary on the Britons' military tactics.[citation needed]


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.[33] 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.[34][35]

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.[36]

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 prior presence in the region.[citation needed]

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.

Arab people refer to mostly people from the western world or predominantly white countries as "Khawwaja". This name is referred but not limited to white people only, although if a person belongs to such a country and speaks the tongue he is also classified as one.

Indian subcontinent[edit]

In Hindi, Hindustani and Urdu the term Angrez is used to refer to the British. This word has its origin in Portuguese Inglês, meaning 'Englishman'.[37][38] A derivative is the term Angrezan or Angrezni, meaning an Englishwoman.[38] 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.[39]

The term Farangi (Franks) has been used in Persian language since the 13th century to refer to all Europeans, Western Europeans in particular. Hindustani/Hindi has adopted this word from Persian and it is used to refer to the Europeans in general (including the British).[40]

The adjective Gora (Gori for females) is also commonly used amongst Britons with subcontinental roots 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 British Asians themselves. The adjective has also been used as a noun to describe white people – hence its potential usage as a racial slur.[41]

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 Sayyippu or Vellakkaran to refer to a male westerner. The feminine equivalent is Madamma or Vellakari.[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 in Assam under Ahom rule and it still is used in the 21st century.[citation needed]

In Tamil Nadu the Tamil word Vellaikaaran means 'white man' and usually refers to members of the British colonial government in the 18th to 19th century. 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 either British or of British descent. Vellaikaari means white woman and Vellaikaarargal or Vellaiyargal is the plural form meaning white people.[citation needed]

Suddo (literally "white") and Ingrisikarayo (Literally "Englishmen") are Sri Lankan and Sinhalese names for British and other western white-skinned people.[citation needed]

Southeast Asia[edit]

In Malaysia, one common Malay equivalent is Mat Salleh. The term may have originated from the general depiction of Royal Navy 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. Balanda from Hollander is another word from Malay used by Makassarese and in northern Australia.[42]

In Thai, the word anggrit (อังกฤษ) is used to describe 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]

Southeast Asian Hokkien and Teochew speakers also call the British ang mo (紅毛), which literally means 'red-haired'. The term was originally used to describe Dutch traders, but is now used for all white people.[43]

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. In Chinese, yīngjílì (Simplified characters: 英吉利), a transliteration of English, is also used to refer Britain in general.

The Chinese Yīngguó, the Japanese Eikoku, and the Korean "Yeongguk" 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'.

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) – 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) and so Igirisu is more commonly used.[44]


As with the South East Asian term Farangi and the Northern Australian term Balanda (see above), the Māori term Pākehā and general Polynesian term Palagi have been used generically for Europeans for many years; given that the predominant early European settlers in Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific islands spoke English, these terms are occasionally used specifically for English or British people. The Māori term for the English language, for instance, is Reo Pākehā.

Names for the peoples of Great Britain and Ireland[edit]

Alternative names for English people[edit]

  • The Celtic languages of the British Isles use terms derived from Old English Seaxan, 'Saxon', possibly itself derived from Old English seax:
  • 'Southrons' – the historical Scots language name for the English, largely displaced since the eighteenth century by "Sassenachs".[citation needed]
  • 'Overner' – A term used by residents of the Isle of Wight to refer to people from the English mainland and elsewhere.[45][46]
  • 'White settlers' is a term used by some Scottish and Welsh nationalist groups for English emigrants living in Scotland and Wales.[47][48]

Alternative names for Scottish people[edit]

Alternative names for Welsh people[edit]

Alternative names for Irish people[edit]

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-juicer". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  3. ^ "limey". Unabridged. Random House. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
  4. ^ "Limey". Oxford Dictionaries UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. n.d. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  5. ^ Harvie, David I. (2005). Limeys: The Conquest of Scurvy. Sutton. ISBN 978-0-7509-3993-5.
  6. ^ Merv Webster (2006). "It's no excuse I fear". Keeping the culture. Retrieved 31 March 2013.[self-published source]
  7. ^ "Bidding for "Pommies"". Sport. 3 August 1912. p. 3. Retrieved 13 May 2020 – via Trove.
  8. ^ "Pommy – definition of Pommy in English from the Oxford dictionary". Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  9. ^ "Pom ruled not offensive". The Sunday Telegraph. Australia. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  10. ^ "'Pommy git' okay, BSA rules – National – NZ Herald News". 6 April 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  11. ^ "Pomnishambles: The Inside Story of the 2013-14 Ashes Whitewash, Test Match Special - BBC Radio 5 live". BBC. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  12. ^ a b ""Pommies"". Call. 27 February 1925. p. 9. Retrieved 13 May 2020 – via Trove.
  13. ^ Gary Martin. "Pommy-bashing". Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Definition of pom". Retrieved 14 September 2015.[unreliable source?]
  15. ^ Tom McArthur (ed.), 1992, The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p384.
  16. ^ Boycott, Geoffrey (10 January 2008). "Cricket must crack down on the abuse – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  17. ^ " "Etymology of Pommy"".
  18. ^ Arthur Jones (17 January 1988). "The story behind the word . Do Poms come from Portsmouth?". The Canberra Times. p. 2. Retrieved 13 May 2020 – via Trove.
  19. ^ "Slang terms at the Front". The British Library. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  20. ^ Laffin, John (2016). Tommy Atkins: The Story of the English Soldier. The History Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-7524-6694-1.
  21. ^ Fletcher, Guy; Ridge, Michael R. (2014). Having it Both Ways: Hybrid Theories and Modern Metaethics. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-19-934758-2. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  22. ^ " "Inselaffe"".
  23. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 30 May 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  24. ^ "BBC – Why do the French call the British 'the roast beefs'?". BBC News. 3 April 2003. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  25. ^ "Lisbonblog "Bife"". Archived from the original on 12 September 2011.[self-published source]
  26. ^ Hughes, Geoffrey. (1998). Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. Penguin. p. 1. ISBN 978-0140267075
  27. ^ Calder, Nigel (1986). The English Channel. Chatto & Windus. p. 185. ISBN 978-0701130534
  28. ^ Hitchings, Henry (2011). The Language Wars: A History of Proper English. Hachette UK. p. 20. ISBN 978-0374183295
  29. ^ Richards, Jeffrey. Films and British National Identity: From Dickens to Dad's Army. Manchester University Press. p. 13-14. ISBN 978-0719047435
  30. ^ Hughes, Geoffrey (2006). An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-speaking World. M.E. Sharpe. p. 324. ISBN 978-0765612311
  31. ^ Caunce, Stephen. (2004). Relocating Britishness. Manchester University Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0719070266
  32. ^ "Vindolanda Tablet 164 Leaf No. 1 (front)". Archived from the original on 24 June 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2010.
  33. ^ Donald G. McNeil Jr (11 October 1998). "Like Politics, All Political Correctness Is Local". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008.[self-published source]
  34. ^ "British Military Terms and Soldier Slang".
  35. ^ "List of South African Slang Words". Archived from the original on 21 April 2012.[self-published source]
  36. ^ " "soutpiel"".
  37. ^ A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary by F. Steinngass, New Delhi 2005, p. 114. ISBN 81-206-0670-1
  38. ^ a b "Portuguese loanwords in Urdu", Dawn News, 31 May 2010
  39. ^ Sailaja, Pingali (2009), Indian English, Edinburgh University Press, p. 96.
  40. ^ "Feringhee". Lexico Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ Rick Hosking, ed. (2010). Reading the Malay World. Wakefield Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-86254-894-7. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  43. ^ Zaccheus, Melody (3 December 2019). "Term 'ang moh' in use as early as 1600s in Ming Dynasty map". The Straits Times.
  44. ^ Kendall, Philip (8 December 2015). "Why is the UK called Igirisu in Japanese?". Japan Today.
  45. ^ Varley, Telford (29 November 2012). Isle of Wight. Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-107-62870-0. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  46. ^ a b Aldridge, Meryl (1 April 2007). Understanding The Local Media. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). p. 13. ISBN 978-0-335-22172-1. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  47. ^ Ward, David (1 March 2002). "Wales swamped by tide of English settlers". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  48. ^ Gilligan, Andrew (7 September 2014). "Anti-English racists terrorising the No campaign in Scotland". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  49. ^ "The real meanings behind the Welsh nicknames we all use". 24 December 2018.
  50. ^ Quinn, Andrew (31 January 2018). "14 telltale signs you are truly 'Norn-Irish'". The News Letter.
  51. ^ Meyer, Carolyn (1987). Voices of Northern Ireland: Growing Up in a Troubled Land. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-15-200635-8.
  52. ^ Warzynski, P A. "Lestah phrases only true chissits will understand". Leicester Mercury (8 March 2016). Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  53. ^ "The real meanings behind the Welsh nicknames we all use". Wales Online. 24 December 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  54. ^ Davies, Norman (2011). Vanished Kingdoms. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1846143380.
  55. ^ "Jeelie". Dictionary of the Scots Language. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. 2004.
  56. ^ Holman, Tom (2010). A Lancashire Miscellany. Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-1-907666-41-4.
  57. ^ "Sunderland Mackem Origin".[self-published source]
  58. ^ "Pie-eaters to battle it out in Wigan". The Daily Mirror. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  59. ^ "raddleman". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. n.d.
  60. ^ tyke. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). Retrieved 16 August 2016 from

Further reading[edit]

  • Safire, William. "Brits, Tommies, Poms, Limeys & Kippers." New York Times Magazine 27 Jan 1991 Vol. 140 Issue 4849, page 8–9. online at William Safire (2011). In Love with Norma Loquendi. Random House. pp. 43–50. ISBN 9780307799753.