Sunday, November 11, 2007

Great Britain? UK? wha--?

I've always had trouble grasping the difference between "Great Britain" and "the United Kingdom." Turns out I'm not alone:

GREAT BRITAIN is a term that means different things to different people. Canada Post uses it as their only recognized name for the United Kingdom. Webster's dictionary defines "Britain" as "the island of Great Britain", and defines Great Britain as "(a) island comprising England, Scotland, and Wales, or (b) United Kingdom" (which in turn is defined to include Northern Ireland). The Encyclopedia Britannica says "Technically, Great Britain is one of the two main islands that make up the British Isles. By this definition it includes the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales. Popularly, Great Britain is the shortened name for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." The OED says that Great Britain is "the whole island containing England, Wales, and Scotland, with their dependencies". William Wallace says, however, that the term "is actually a remnant of the Norman Conquest times, and was used to distinguish between Large Britain (Grande Bretagne) and Little Britain (Petite Bretagne, Brittany). It has nothing to do with Empire or world domination and simply refers to the time when the island was administered and fought over by the French." In any case, the ambiguity of the term Great Britain -- is it a country, an island, or a group of islands? -- suggests it is best avoided.

Hey, guys: thanks for making things so easy. Bastards.


1 comment:

  1. God help me I had this drilled into me at school from a very early age.
    England is the bit at the bottom, next to Wales and under Scotland. "Britain" is the whole island encompassing Wales and Scotland. "Great Britain" includes Northern Island and as far as my fifth for history teacher was concerned was indeed short hand for "The United Kingdom of Great Britain". But as you also point out had nothing to do with "The British Empire" which I guess is another beast entirely, the heart of which was Great Britain. Of course my history teacher, being of good British stock never told us that Great Britain had once been controlled by the French and Brittany was once part of those lands.



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