Glossary of names for the British
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.
Note on Usage: 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. When hearing British speakers talk amongst themselves it is wise not to assume that terms marked as offensive are being used as such however, just because the speakers use such terms amongst or about themselves, do not assume that the same words from others will be accepted in the same way.
Terms for the British in English
Brit is a commonly used term in the United States and elsewhere, simply as a shortened form of "Briton".
An archaic form of "Briton", similar to "Brit", always much more used in North America than Britain itself, but even there, it is outdated.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 in the British Raj and is still used extensively in the Indian Subcontinent.
The term originated in the 1850s as "lime-juicer", and was later shortened to "limey". 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.
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 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.
Pommy or Pom
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). Newspapers in Australia were using the term by 1912. The Oxford Dictionary defines its use as "often derogatory" 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". The New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority made a similar ruling in 2010. Indeed, the BBC itself has used the phrase upon occasion. Disputes about whether the term is offensive were already occurring by 1925.
There are several folk etymologies for "Pommy" or "Pom". The best-documented of these is that "Pommy" originated as a contraction of "pomegranate". According to this explanation, "pomegranate" was Australian rhyming slang for "immigrant" ("Jimmy Grant"). 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. 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"). 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 Boer Wars, from a corruption of "Tommy Atkins", or from "Pompey", a nickname for Portsmouth.
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 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. Thus, 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 German, 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.
In languages other than English
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 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.
Inselaffe / Insel-Affe
In Portugal, the term bife (literally meaning 'steak', but sounding like "beef") is used as a slang term to refer to the English. There is a feminine form, bifa, mainly used to refer to English female tourists.
Les goddams (sometimes les goddems or les goddons) is an obsolete ethnic slur historically used by the French to refer to the English, based on their frequent expletives. The name originated during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) between England and France, when English soldiers were notorious among the French for their frequent use of profanity and in particular the interjection "God damn".
In one of the Vindolanda tablets from Hadrian's Wall the pejorative Latin word Brittunculi (wretched little Britons) 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. 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.
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.
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.
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'. An interesting derivative is Angrezan or Angrezni, meaning an Englishwoman. 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.
The term Farangi (Franks) has been used in Persian language since the 13th century to refer to Europeans, especially Western Europeans. Hindustani/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 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 as a racial slur.
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.
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.
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. Balanda from Hollander is another word from Malay used by Makassarese and in northern Australia.
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'.
Southeast 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.
The following terms are used to mean 'Britain' or 'British' and use etymologies mostly unrelated to "Britain":
- Chinese: Yīngguó (Simplified characters: 英国, Traditional characters: 英國)
- Japanese: Eikoku (Kanji: 英国)
- Korean: Yeongguk (Hangul: 영국, Hanja: 英國)
- Vietnamese: Anh Quốc (Chữ nôm: 英國)
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.
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 Northern Ireland
Alternative names for English people
- The Celtic languages of the British Isles use terms derived from Old English Seaxan, 'Saxon', possibly itself derived from Old English seax:
- Scottish Gaelic: Sasannach, in older literature Sacsannach / Sagsananch; the language is Beurla. Sassenach is still used by Scottish speakers of English and Scots to refer to English people, mostly negatively.
- Cornish: Sows, plural Sowson; the English language is Sowsnek
- Welsh: Sais, plural Saeson; the English language is Saesneg
- Irish: Sasanach, historically also having the colloquial meaning "Protestant"; the language is Béarla, short for Sacs-Bhéarla "Saxon language"
- Manx: Sostynagh, plural Sostynee; the English language is Baarle, from Irish
- 'Southrons' – the historical Scots language name for the English, largely displaced since the eighteenth century by "Sassenachs".
- 'Overner' – A term used by residents of the Isle of Wight to refer to people from the English mainland and elsewhere.
- 'White settlers' is a term used by some Scottish and Welsh nationalist groups for English people living in Scotland and Wales who are perceived as imposing their culture on the local population.
Alternative names for Scottish people
Alternative names for Welsh people
- Taffy or taff after the River Taff that runs through the Welsh capital, Cardiff, or from the common Welsh man's name Dafydd (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈdavɨð]).
- Sheep shagger (offensive)
- Gog, person from North Wales (from the Welsh "gogledd": north)
Alternative names for Irish people
- Mick (offensive)
- Norn Iron or Norn Irish – Northern Ireland and Northern Irish, respectively – derived from the pronunciation in the local accent.
- Paddy (offensive)
- Taig (offensive)
Regional alternative names
In most cases regional names are associated with those who speak with a specific regional accent, distinct to the area.
- Appleknocker and Caulkhead – Isle of Wight
- Brummie – Birmingham
- Chissit – Leicester
- Cockney – East London
- Dumpling – Norfolk
- Geordie – Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead
- Jack – Swansea (possibly after Swansea Jack)
- Janner – Plymouth
- Lanky – Lancashire
- Loiner – LeedsSouthrons
- Mackem – Sunderland
- Manc – Manchester
- Monkey hanger – Hartlepool
- Pie Eater – Wigan
- Scouser – Liverpool
- Smoggie – Teesside
- Stokie and Potter – Stoke-on-Trent
- Tyke – Yorkshire
- Weegie – Glasgow
- Woolyback or "Wool" – Towns bordering Liverpool
- Wurzel – South West England
- Yam yam – Black Country
- Yellowbelly – Lincolnshire
- Yorkie – Yorkshire
- Britons (historic)
- British Isles (terminology)
- List of British regional nicknames
- Offensive terms per nationality
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- "Feringhee". Lexico Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
- 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.
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- Kendall, Philip (8 December 2015). "Why is the UK called Igirisu in Japanese?". Japan Today.
- Varley, Telford (29 November 2012). Isle of Wight. Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-107-62870-0. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
- 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.
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- Gilligan, Andrew (7 September 2014). "Anti-English racists terrorising the No campaign in Scotland". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
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