Alternative words for British

Alternative words for British

There are many alternative ways to describe the people of the United Kingdom (UK), though the official designated nationality is British. The standard noun is "Briton" (see also demonym), but in colloquial usage this is often abbreviated informally to "Brit". In practice, Britons are often referred to, according to their constituent nation, as English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish. Some other terms are humorous or derogatory slang, and used mainly by people from other countries, although British people themselves may use them in a self-deprecating way. Other terms are serious or tongue-in-cheek attempts to coin words as alternatives to the potentially ambiguous standard terms. British (English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh combined) people may consider some if not all irreverent terms to be offensive, or in some cases even racist.


Sassenach / Saesneg / Sowsnek /

No doubt the longest-standing terms for the English are those belonging to their immediate neighbours, the Scots, the Welsh and the Cornish, which all derive from the original name of the Germanic settlers, the Saxons. While the Scots is probably the best known, into the 17th century, some Cornish were known to use the expression 'Meea navidna cowza sawzneck!' to feign ignorance of the English language. [Richard Carew, "Survey of Cornwall, 1602" N.B. in revived Cornish, this would be transcribed 'My ny vynnaf cows sowsnek'.]


"Limey" is an old American and Canadian slang nickname for the British, originally referring to British sailors. The term is believed to derive from "lime-juicer", referring to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy practice of supplying lime juice to British sailors to prevent scurvy. The benefits of citrus juice were well known at the time thanks to the acute observations of surgeon James Lind who noticed that the cabbage eating Dutch had fewer problems with scurvy. Limes were used over lemons because limes were more readily available from Britain's own Caribbean colonies. The term is thought to have originated in the Caribbean in the 1880s. A false etymology is that it is a derivative of "Cor blimey" ("God blind me!").


The term "pommy" or "pom" is commonly used by speakers of Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English and Afrikaans. It is often shortened to "pom". The origin of this term is not confirmed and there are several persistent false etymologies, most being backronyms, an example of which would be P.O.M.E, Prisoner Of Mother England. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) strongly supports the theory that pommy originated as a contraction of "pomegranate". [cite web |url= |title=Online Oxford English Dictionary entry for "Pomegranate"] The OED also suggests that the reason for this is that pomegranate is extinct Australian rhyming slang for immigrant; it cites an article from 14 November 1912, in a once-prominent Australian weekly magazine "The Bulletin": "The other day a Pummy Grant (assisted immigrant) was handed a bridle and told to catch a horse." A popular alternative explanation for the theory that pommy is a contraction of "pomegranate", relates to the purported frequency of sunburn among British people in Australia, turning their fair skin the colour of pomegranates. [cite web |url= |title=Cricket must crack down on the abuse - Telegraph ] However, there is no hard evidence for the theory regarding sunburn.

A false etymology (or "backronym") common in both Australia and New Zealand is that pom originated as an acronym for "prisoner of (his/her) majesty" or "prisoner of mother England". Although many of the first British settlers in Australia were convicts sentenced to transportation to Australia, there is no evidence for this. Some proponents of this theory claim that upon arrival in the country they would be given a uniform with "POHM" or "POME" emblazoned on the back, which apparently stood for "Prisoners Of Her Majesty" but there are no images or examples of these uniforms.In addition, it is used to mean 'Product of Mother England'.

Other etymologies which are unsupported by evidence include:
*"prisoner of Millbank", after the area of London where prisoners were held prior to transportation;
*it is rhyming slang for tommy, international slang for a British soldier;
*an acronym for "Port of Melbourne". However, the term "pommy" was coined long before POM was used as acronym for the port.
*comes from "pomme", French for apple. The joke was that the 'fresh off the boat' newly arrived, or 'new apples' - the translucent blue pasty white British would turn bright red, like an apple or a pomegranate, with sunburn when they landed in Australia, the old French words for pomegranate being "pomme grenade". Also, some suggest that England were well known for growing apples, and thus the name "pommy" from "pomme" sufficed.

In 2006, an Auckland, New Zealand, Planet FM's English community radio program 'The Anglofiles' received feedback that many English people living in New Zealand considered the word Pom to be highly offensive. They felt that it continued to be used colloquially in an abusive and racist manner, and unnecessarily displaced the word 'English'. They felt it to be akin to racist terms such as 'wog', 'wop' and 'spic'. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission describes racial abuse as language or actions which, in the recipient's view, induce negative feelings towards his or her race. The inference is, therefore, that racial abuse cannot be adequately defined by the originator, or anyone else who is not negatively affected by it (such as Advertising Standards Boards, see below). It was on this basis that, in 2006, 'The Anglofiles' achieved a written undertaking from the major New Zealand television companies to avoid usage of the term Pom or Pommy in all their local content.

In Australia the word 'Pom' is not an insult, in the same way that 'scouse', 'Taffy', 'geordie', 'paddy', 'cockney', 'manc', 'jock', 'yank', 'kiwi' or 'aussie' is not an insult, (unlike the word 'seppo', used to describe the yanks using rhyming slang for 'septic tank' which most definitely is an insult). Many people from the United Kingdom consider it to be offensive. Few Australians (aussies) see any reason to take offence to its use (however, see the New Zealand Human Rights Commission's definition of racial abuse, above), using it in an affectionate context. In December 2006, the Advertising Standards Board of Australia unanimously ruled that the word "pom" was a part of the Australian vernacular, and was largely used in a "playful or affectionate" sense. As a consequence, the board ruled that the word did not constitute a racial slur, and could be freely used in advertising. The Board was responding to a complaint filed by a group called the British People Against Racial Discrimination. [cite web |url=,,20969794-5006009,00.html |title=The Daily Telegraph - Pom ruled not offensive] Nonetheless, the word is sometimes used today in hostile context, in the same way that any word can be used in a hostile context. On July 2, 2008, an article in the "Sydney Morning Herald" was entitled: "Poms crush Aussie Games hopes with rules, not talent". [ [ "Poms crush Aussie Games hopes with rules, not talent"] , "Sydney Morning Herald", July 2, 2008]


In French the term "rosbif" originally referred to English style of cooking roast beef. [ [ BBC - Why do the French call the British 'the roast beefs'?] ] During the Hundred Years War the French took to calling the English "les goddams" because of their frequent use of expletives.

In Portugal, the term "bife" (literally meaning "steak", but sounding like "beef") is used as a slang term to refer to British individuals. There is a feminine form, "bifa", mainly used to refer to British female tourists.


In South Africa the term 'Pom' may also be used, while Afrikaans speakers use the term "rooinek" (literally 'red neck', on account of the sunburnt skin on their necks).

Britisher, Angrez, Angrej, Anggrit, Firang

The term Britisher is still used in India, and to a lesser extent in the United States, but is largely obsolete elsewhere.

Angrez is of Arabic or Persian origin and is also sometimes used to refer to British people. It derives from the French "Anglais". Among South Asians, Angrez often has the more general meaning of "white foreigner", although its more specific meaning is Englishman, with Angrezan for an English woman. This is mostly seen as an ethnic, rather than a territorial, term and applied specifically for people of Anglo-Saxon origin. So people of South Asian origin living in England do not usually refer to themselves as Angrez or Angrezan. Replacing the z with j is common practice especially amongst people from the Punjab region, hence it would be Angrej (masculine) and Angrejan (female). Urdu speakers retain the z always.

The word Firang is used in the same sense as Angrez. Firang is derived from the word 'Frank' and arose during the Crusades, when all invading Christians of the Latin Church came to be seen as Franks. Firang is also likely to have come from firangi meaning foreigner. It tends to refer to Europeans and the European diaspora. It could also stem from the colour of the skin, that is "Fika Rang", ("light colour"), for lighter complexioned westerners. Such combinations of words occur frequently in Hindi and are called "sandhis". The word Ferengi, derived from Firang, is used in Star Trek to describe a race of rapacious alien traders. It could in this context be considered a somewhat obscure racial slur.

Punjabis use the term Englandi for any other citizen of England, including Asian British people, regardless of that person's ancestral ethnicity.

The word "Gora" is also commonly used amongst South Asians to refer to Britons. Though the term when literally translated means "fair skinned", and would apply to all Caucasians it is more often associated with being a reference to Britons. The feminine of the term would be "Gori".

In Thai, the word anggrit (อังกฤษ) is used to described both the English in particular, and the British in general. The terms Scotland and Scot are also used to described the people and country of Scotland.

John Bull

"John Bull" was originally a character created by John Arbuthnot in 1712 to satirise the Whig war party. Later in the 18th century, British satirical artists James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank contrasted the stout and healthy British cartoon character with scrawny French revolutionary sans-culottes Jacobins. In the 19th century the U.S. cartoonist Thomas Nast also drew the character. The character has tended to be more popular in, and to be more associated with, England than Scotland and Wales. In light of this, creator Arbuthnot provided John Bull with a sister, Peg, to represent the Scots.


The name "Tommy" for a soldier in the British Army is particularly associated with World War I. German soldiers used the word as general-purpose name, and would call out 'Tommy!' across no-man's land if they wished to speak to a British soldier (the British using 'Fritz!' for the opposite action). 'Joe' has been used similarly to refer to American soldiers. The French, and Commonwealth forces also used the name. Tommy is derived from "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 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 "" (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 rock-opera "Tommy" by The Who references the word in the title; the main character's father was a British airman who went missing in action during World War II.


Use of the term "Brit" seems to have become widespread in more recent times. The correct form is actually "Briton", yet is rare in colloquial usage. The term 'Brit' was commonly used by nationalist Irish in Northern Ireland, during which time it acquired highly pejorative connotations, which some feel it still has; it is best to err on the side of caution and use the more formal "Briton".


The term "Redcoat" is a defunct slang term for a British soldier. This term applied from the mid-17th century to around 1902 when the British Army wore distinctive scarlet tunics in their typical military dress.

Other languages

In one of the Vindolanda tablets the Latin pejorative of "Brittunculi" (wretched little Britons) [] is used (presumably by a Roman official) in a commentary of their particular military tactics.

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. For example in Turkish 'İngiltere' is wrongly 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. The same occurs rather less frequently in the case of individuals from Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is perhaps because Wales, although retaining its own language and culture, was formally annexed by England during the Middle Ages. Scotland and Ireland remained separate entities until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries respectively, when the Kingdom of Great Britain and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were formed. However, even these countries may still sometimes be considered to form part of "Angleterre" or the equivalent. In some languages, as in French, forms like "britannique" ('British') are restricted to more official contexts, and tend to be used for governments rather than for individuals.

In Spain, in spite of growing domestic nationalist and Celtic cultural movements and the resulting complex Spanish territorial stresses, the distinction between the English, Scots, Welsh and their mother countries are, as in Latin America, completely non-existent. This is reflected in the media where the British government, the army, etc., are all referred to as "inglés" [English] . In everyday life, the average Spaniard does not differentiate between the nationalities and is often bemused when, for example, a Scot points out his/her solecism. Ireland, however, including the province of Northern Ireland, has always been considered as a different entity, even when Eire was part of the United Kingdom; this may be due to historical ties between these two Catholic regions.

In Polish the common informal term to describe an Englishman is "Anglik", which is probably derived from the vernacular Polish word for the United Kingdom "Anglia". A derogatory term for an English man coined in the recent years is "Angol"; however, due to its negative connotations it is not used in formal writing or by the media.

In India, especially in British India, the British were, and often still are, referred to as "firangis"/"pirangis" (aliens) or "goras" (literally "Whiteman" in Hindi).

The Malay word 'Mat Salleh' originated from the general depiction of British Colonial Sailors who were often drunk (Mad Sailors). Due to the inability of locals to pronounce English words correctly, it became 'Mat Salleh' (Mat and Salleh are both typical Malay names). Another alternative is 'Orang Putih' (white people) or it's shortened rural version 'Omputih'. In ancient Malaccan times, the term 'Orang Feringgi' was also used.

Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese use terms for Britain/British which are derived from the words "England" and "English". The Japanese word for Britain has its origins in the Portuguese word for English: Inglês became _ja. イギリス "Igirisu".

Although the Chinese "Yīngguó" (Hanzi:英国), Japanese "Eikoku" (Kanji: _ja. 英国), Korean "Yeongguk" (Hangul: _ko. 영국), and Vietnamese "Anh Quốc" are all derived from "Eng-" in England, they are used to mean "Britain" and "British", including both Great Britain and UK. They are still used to mean England in unofficial contexts. There are also more formal specific names for the UK, such as the Chinese 連合王国 "Liánhéwángguó" 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. However, sport teams are called by their correct name, as can be seen in any World Cup schedule.

The written form of "Yīngguó" in Chinese is made up of two characters: 英国. The first 英 (ying) is used only for its sound, its meaning disregarded, the second is 国 (guo) which means country/state/kingdom. Originally the adjective word was written as _zh. 英吉利 "Yingjili" as an approximation of the adjective word "English", and is still used to mean English in the Chinese word for the English Channel _zh. 英吉利海峡 "Yīng jí lì hǎi xiá". The noun word was written as 英格兰 "Ying ge lan" for the noun England, also 苏格兰 "Su ge lan" for Scotland, 爱尔兰 "Ai er lan" for Ireland and 威尔士 "Wei er shi" for Wales. Also in history books Great Britain is written 大不列颠 "da bu lie dian", from 大 (Great) and the sounds of the words 不列颠, which also mean "can't be knocked down/tipped over". The word was given the reading "igirisu" in Japanese, and the same abbreviation was adopted, _ja. 英国 "eikoku", taking the first character and using the more usual 'Chinese' reading. These days, the word is usually written using katakana script as _ja. イギリス "Igirisu", although _ja. 英国 "Eikoku" is still common. [ [ _ja. イギリス【英吉利】, えいこく【英国】] ] The first character is also used in the word for the English language, 英語 "eigo". [The abbreviation of 英國, 英吉利 and 英語 (Simplified Chinese: _zh. 英语; Chinese Pinyin: "Yīngyǔ"; Japanese Kana: _ja. えいご, Rōmaji:"Eigo"; Korean Hangul: _ko. 영어, Revised Romanization (RR): "Yeong-eo"; "English language") is 英 (Chinese Pinyin: "Yīng"; Japanese Kana : _ja. えい, Rōmaji: "Ei"; Korean Hangul: _ko. 영, RR: "Yeong"; Vietnamese: Anh).] Additionally, Vietnamese "đảo Anh" (literally, "English island") means the island of Great Britain.


See also

* British Isles (terminology)
* Offensive terms per nationality

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alternative names for the British — 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 British Isles (terminology). Alternative names for the… …   Wikipedia

  • Alternative adjectives for U.S. citizens — There are a number of alternative adjectives to American as a demonym for a person of the United States that cannot simultaneously mean any inhabitant of the Americas.The most widely used and recognized term in English for a person of the United… …   Wikipedia

  • British — may refer to:* British people, or Britons , inhabitants of Great Britain, the United Kingdom, or associated territories (to understand these distinctions, see Terminology of the British Isles) ** Britons (historic), sometimes Brythons , ancient… …   Wikipedia

  • British people — Infobox Ethnic group group= Britons/British people caption = Notable Britons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel·Gordon Brown·Keira Knightley·Winston Churchill David Lloyd George·Kelly Holmes·Adam Smith·Horatio Nelson regions= tablehdr= genealogy=… …   Wikipedia

  • British National Party — For other uses, see British National Party (disambiguation). British National Party …   Wikipedia

  • Alternative medicine — Alternative medical systems …   Wikipedia

  • British nationality law and Hong Kong — British nationality law as it pertains to Hong Kong has been a unique situation ever since Hong Kong was created a British colony in 1842. With its beginning as a trading port to today s cosmopolitan international financial centre, the territory… …   Wikipedia

  • British passport — British passports may be issued to people holding any of the various forms of British nationality. The British monarch does not have a passport as British passports are issued in the monarch s name []… …   Wikipedia

  • British toponymy — is the study of British place names, their origins and trends in naming. Toponymy is distinct from the study of etymology, which is concerned mainly with the origin of the words themselves.British toponymy is rich, complex and diverse. Modern… …   Wikipedia

  • British Isles naming dispute — There is dispute and disagreement over the term British Isles, particularly in relation to Ireland. The term is defined in dictionaries as Great Britain and Ireland and adjacent islands . [ [… …   Wikipedia