Talk:Country/Archive 4

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Some problems with this article

I believe there are a number of significant problems in this article which led me to put in a bold revision That was reverted; fair enough. Instead, here are some piece-meal comments:

  • The article effectively presents this as a definition: "In English the word has increasingly become associated with political divisions, so that one sense, associated with the indefinite article – "a country" – is now a synonym for state, or a former sovereign state, in the sense of sovereign territory." The source for this is given as the OED, yet certainly limitating it to sovereign state or former sovereign state is not supported by the OED online. Country, in a political sense, has a much broader application.
  • This then runs counter to the Lead which gives examples of non-sovereign territories (not being former sovereign states) which are "countries". I don't see how this complies with WP:LEAD.
  • WP:LEAD is a problem generally. The attempted definition is in the main body but the detailed examples supposedly of that definition is in the Lead. The Lead and main body read like two independent parts of the article instead of the Lead being a summary of the main body. The last two paras of the Lead and the last sentence of the first para in the Lead (modified IMHO by the other points I'm making) should be integrated into the body of the text.
  • There is no sourcing for linking a country to being a former state. The fact that there are some former states that are generally called countries does not enable us to make that statement: that's just WP:Synthesis.
  • Much of the above is linked to the major point which is missing from this article: there is no generally accepted definition of the word "country" and its application is so haphazard as to make it effectively meaningless. The wording needn't be as blunt as that but certainly something like the following should be included; "There are no generally accepted criteria for what constitutes a "country" nor is there a generally accepted definition of the word." There are plenty of sources for this - and I can suggest these: "Defining what makes a country" The Economist, 8 April 2010; The Geography Site, but there are others. One can also cite the widely differing dictionary definitions in the main British, US and Australian dictionaries: OED; Merriam-Webster; Macquarie. The article needs to dispel the impression that there are criteria for a "country", and to be called a "country" means something.
  • Some points of detail: (a) the constiuent parts of Yugoslavia and USSR were never in English described as countries, and no source has been provided for this. There are plenty of sources for them being referred to as "the Republics". (b) As there is no accepted criteria/meaning for country when applied to non-sovereign territories, its usage in these circumstances amounts only to convention (even if supported by governmental usage). In two cases, however, law determines the nomenclature: overseas Netherlands and French Polynesia, and this should be mentioned.
  • A more controversial point that is missing but should be tackled is why the designation of "country" matters in some parts of the English-speaking world and its relationship to national identity, status and nationalism. The interesting thing about that is that the same issue doesn't appear to apply in other languages where words like "nation" (see the recent court case involving Catalonia's desire to be called a nation) and "people" are the touchstones of nationalism. It's hinted at in the references to "pays" and German "Land", but the point never made. Anyway, I think that's probably all in the too difficult pile for somewhere like Wikipedia.

DeCausa (talk) 17:35, 20 May 2011 (UTC)


I'm afraid you don't know what you are talking about! Johnbod (talk) 18:14, 20 May 2011 (UTC) Same for Croatia and Slovenia, which was never a state until 1991. Johnbod (talk) 18:16, 20 May 2011 (UTC)
What a bizarre response! Anyway, have you looked at the results? They're almost all referring to the pre-Yugoslavia period. In Yugoslavia they were referred to as Republics, as they were in the USSR. DeCausa (talk) 18:46, 20 May 2011 (UTC)
Ah, I misunderstood the point you were trying to make. Yes the search was set for pre-1940. But you have to understand, that in English, once you are a country, you normally stay a country, even if you are absorbed into another state. Searches for books between 1946 and 1988 give very similar results. Johnbod (talk) 19:15, 20 May 2011 (UTC)
True, but there's an awful lot of "the beautiful Logar Valley make Slovenia an ideal mountain climbing country".DeCausa (talk) 19:51, 20 May 2011 (UTC)
Well, there would be in a similar search for France - the range of meanings of the word is the difficulty of the article. But there are 19,700 there. Johnbod (talk) 03:45, 21 May 2011 (UTC)
I looked through the first 2 pages of the results - almost all are references like the quote I gave above or the country referred to is in fact Yugoslavia, although there are a couple of nationalist quotes from Slovenians saying its "their" country. Anyway, it's a very minor point and I am happy to concede it if it means we can move on: would appreciate comments on the main parts of my post. Thanks. DeCausa (talk) 08:19, 21 May 2011 (UTC)
It isn't a minor point at all - it's a very good example of the potential difference between a country and a state. I don't agree with "almost all" - in fact a clear majority of those first two pages use a "national" sense of the word, and of Slovenia not Yugoslavia, though a couple do mean Y. Must I start quoting? Johnbod (talk) 15:09, 21 May 2011 (UTC)
Whatever. It's a tiny minor point on my post and I frankly don't care. I'd like to get feedback from the community on the main points on my post. Thank you for your input. DeCausa (talk) 15:22, 21 May 2011 (UTC)
P.S. Why don't you add a citation to the article as there is a citation needed tag against this at the moment. DeCausa (talk) 15:24, 21 May 2011 (UTC)

Other comments

I'd be grateful for comments on my post. Anything on Yugoslavia can go above. Thanks.

The lack of clear meaning to the term is not as bad as you suggest. This article does get messed about with endlessly. Loooking back to the last time I did anything much here, I think the lead was on the whole better then, though you will probably not agree. I don't think we will in fact get very far here while you think the Yugoslav/UK examples are "tiny minor points". Johnbod (talk) 04:09, 23 May 2011 (UTC)
Look I concede it. Let's move on what's the problem? If you don't want to engage with me on the main points in my post. Thats's fine. But I'll begin implementing them in the next week or so (unless editors provide suubstantiated objections of course). DeCausa (talk) 08:42, 23 May 2011 (UTC)
Having already been reverted once, you have put up a number of points, very unclearly expressed in my view, "for discussion", & then more or less refused to discuss them. What do you think of the old version I link above? In my view this deals with your "major point" better, and much better than your comment above. Like many English word, the term has several different senses which often overlap. That does not mean the term cannot be used or written about. The last point is a red herring; only English has the word "country" & its usage can only really become controversial in English-speaking contexts. Elsewhere any controversy will involve words in the local languages, though in fact very similar issues arise almost everywhere except the Americas (except for Quebec). You still seem to lack understanding of the essential way the term differs from "state", which is likely to be fatal to any drastic rewrite you come up with. It would be nice if we could find an overall source that deals well with these matters. The Economist really deals only with one or two restricted applications of the word, and attempts to use their piece in wider contexts would be WP:OR and WP:SYNTHESIS. Johnbod (talk) 13:27, 23 May 2011 (UTC)
I don't think you're addressing the point I'm making. See below. DeCausa (talk) 08:16, 28 May 2011 (UTC)

As requested, and in answer to the first few points: I can see no reason why the OED online should be considered definitive. This is not Simple Wikipedia. I don't have access at the moment to a proper dictionary, but these are useful: In a 2001 judgment, the Federal Court of Australia made two relevant pronouncements here: "11 It may be noted at the outset that the expression "foreign country" is defined, subject to any contrary intention, in s 22(1)(f) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901(Cth) to mean: "any country (whether or not an independent sovereign state) outside Australia and the external Territories" and "13 We were referred both to The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed, 1989) and The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd ed, 1997) for the meaning of the word "country" ... It seems that there was a transition in the meaning of the word to a district with distinct or defined physical characteristics, and that it came to be used for a territory or land of a nation usually, although not necessarily, an independent state." Again, the Federal Court of Australia: Reel v Holder 1979 3 All ER 104; "The word [country] must be given its ordinary meaning, having regard to the `factual matrix' in which it was formed. I should find it surprising if the ordinary person did not regard Scotland and Wales as being examples of countries; in doing so they would not be considering the existence, or absence, of a separate government, nor the desire, or lack of it, of any of the inhabitants of either area to achieve the position of belonging to a separate state. If the ordinary person was asked whether, in the context of international sport, Scotland and Wales were separate countries I think he would say, `Of course'." On appeal, Reel v Holder 1981 3 All ER 321, Eveleigh LJ said at 326: "I think that the word [country] is used in the rules in the sense of an area or part of the world where the applicant has authority in relation to athletics and an area to which the word `country' is appropriate because the inhabitants share the right to live there in common as one distinct people. This is a question to be answered broadly and not on a political basis alone. Political status may have some relevance. It may perhaps help to see the inhabitants as being one people but it is not the decisive factor."" Hope that helps. Daicaregos (talk) 22:35, 27 May 2011 (UTC)

I fear you may have misinterpreted my fundamental point. I'm not questioning that country means both sovereign states and non-sovereign territories. Clearly all sovereign states are referred to as countries and a non-sovereign territory can be referred to as a country. My point is that there is no generally accepted definition or criteria which indicates which non-sovereign territories. And, indeed, any simplistic definitions of "country" as applied to non-sovereign territories are quite easily disprovable. The wording from the cases you cite above. which are relevant to the latter point are: "to a district with distinct or defined physical characteristics, and that it came to be used for a territory or land of a nation usually, although not necessarily, an independent state" and "the inhabitants share the right to live there in common as one distinct people." There are many regions in the world to which those definitions clearly apply, but you will find it difficult to source usage of the word "country": Catalonia and other regions of Spain; regions of many Africa states (where inherited colonial borders ignore raditional ones; many eastern European states with compact national minority territories; kurdish region of Turkey etc. My main point is that, for non-sovereign territories, usage of the word country is by custom not by the application of any objective criteria - and that's what needs to be brought out in the article. Dai, I hope very much you reply to this post as I am genuinely interested in how would respond to that. Thank. DeCausa (talk) 08:14, 28 May 2011 (UTC)
Usage of the vast majority of words "is by custom not by the application of any objective criteria", which is why words used in legal contexts often have to be specially and more tightly defined than in normal usage. But the article is not Legal definition of country so that is a minor issue here. You seem to be repeating above your mistake with (ahem) Yugoslavia. Johnbod (talk) 21:28, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
Quite wrong, and a poor error. Sovereign state, Republic, Unitary state, Federal system, Monarchy to give random examples, all give descriptions/meanings/criteria in the abstract which enables one to say whether that particular word is applicable in any particular situation. That is not possible with the word country. DeCausa (talk) 21:38, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
"Random"? I don't think so! Try nation, people, and more widely teapot, sofa, theatre and so on. A relatively small number of the more common words for abstract concepts can be simply defined by clear-cut criteria. Most can't. Johnbod (talk) 22:54, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
Country is more associated with sovereign state. GoodDay (talk) 10:41, 28 May 2011 (UTC)
Country has more than one meaning. I suggest you look up the definition of the word in a dictionary.--Jeanne Boleyn (talk) 11:02, 28 May 2011 (UTC)
I still haven't managed to source the OED (not the online one, the proper one). I'm sure it is possible to access it online though. Does anyone know how? Nevertheless, one of the references on Talk:Countries of the United Kingdom/refs says “The Oxford English Dictionary, in its 1893 edition, includes under "country" the meaning "3. The territory or land of a nation; usually an independent state, or a region once independent and still distinct in race, language, institutions, or historical memories, as England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the United Kingdom, etc." ”. Still, as Wikipedia is not a usage guide says, “Wikipedia is not in the business of saying how words, idioms, phrases etc., should be used (but it may be important in the context of an encyclopedia article to discuss how a word is used).” That means the word's actual use should be noted. In this context, that will include not only use of 'country' to describe sovereign states, but its use to describe England, Scotland, Wales and, to a lesser extent, Northern Ireland, too. Unless sources are found to that say using 'country' as a non-sovereign description is 'identity politics', the theory cannot be used in this article, as it would be original research and/or synthesis. I'm sure that the article could be improved. But I am not convinced that re-writing it completely, and changing its premise, would be the improvement this article needs. Daicaregos (talk) 21:10, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
The online subscription only OED now is the "proper" one. Johnbod (talk) 21:28, 30 May 2011 (UTC)
The Shorter OED Third Edition gives: (1) An expanse of land; a region, a district. (2) A tract or district having limits in relation to human occupation, e.g. owned by the same lord, or inhabited by people of the same race, dialect, occupation, etc. (3) The territory or land of a nation. (4) The land of a person's birth, citizenship, residence, etc. (5) The rural districts as distinct from the town or towns. (6) The people of a district or state; the nation. Plus a further three more technical meanings. Ghmyrtle (talk) 21:52, 30 May 2011 (UTC) says: 1. a. A tract or expanse of land of undefined extent; a region, district. b. without a and pl. c. The transition from 1 to 2 is seen in the application of the word to a district having distinct physical or other characteristics, as the chalk country, the fen country, thecountry of the red-deer, the stag-hunting country, etc.

2. a. A tract or district having more or less definite limits in relation to human occupation. e.g. owned by the same lord or proprietor, or inhabited by people of the same race, dialect, occupation, etc.; spec. preceded by a personal name: the region associated with a particular person or his works; Formerly often applied to a county, barony, or other part; in Ireland and Scotland, still to the territory of a clan as the O'Neil Country,Lochiel's Country. b. God's (own) country , the United States, or some particular part of the United States; also applied to other countries, and, more generally, an ‘earthly paradise’. orig.U.S.

3. The territory or land of a nation; usually an independent state, or a region once independent and still distinct in race, language, institutions, or historical memories, as England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the United Kingdom, etc. With political changes, what were originally distinct countries have become provinces or districts of one country, and vice versa; the modern tendency being to identify the term with the existing political condition.

4. The land of a person's birth, citizenship, residence, etc.; used alike in the wider sense of native land, and in the narrower one of the particular district to which a person belongs.a. with poss. pron. b. absol. Native land, fatherland.

5. a. ‘The parts of a region distant from cities or courts’ (Johnson); the rural districts as distinct from the town or towns; sometimes applied to all outside the capital, called, by eminence, ‘town’.

6. a. The people of a district or state; the nation.

b. to appeal or go to the country : to appeal to the body of parliamentary electors from an adverse or doubtful vote of the House of Commons, which is practically done by the dissolution of Parliament: see appeal v. 5.

There's more, but irrelevant, stuff. Let me know if you want me to quote it too. Definition #3 seems relevant to this article. Daicaregos (talk) 22:29, 30 May 2011 (UTC)