• British •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Pertaining to or belonging to Great Britain or its inhabitants.
Notes: Britain is a European island containing the once-separate countries of England, Scotland, and Wales, now combined along with Northern Ireland into a single state called the United Kingdom. The greater part of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, is a discrete country. Historically, the island was known as "Great" (i.e. "large") Britain in order to distinguish it from Lesser Britain, the present-day French peninsula of Brittany. The state of being British is Britishness, which may lead one to behave Britishly. An inhabitant of Britain is a Briton, now often informally shortened to Brit.
In Play: A common outsider's error is to use the adjective English (pertaining to England alone) as if it were synonymous with British. The Welsh and Scots may have much to say on such usage: "Cousin Hamish became quite upset when we called Edinburgh an 'English' city; he said it was like calling Dallas 'Californian'." Edinburgh is correctly either a Scottish or British city, just as Dallas is either a Texas or an American city. But remember, also, that Ireland is an island separate from Britain, and to extend the word British to include the Irish is to become involved in a centuries-old dispute best avoided without a flak jacket.
Word History: Britain is the current remnant of Britannia, the Latin name for the islands. The Latin name probably came from the name of a Brythonic-speaking native tribe who called themselves the Pritani. The suffix -ish comes from Old English -isc, used to form adjectives of nationality from country names, such as Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English. English was originally created by adding this suffix to the name of the Angles, or Engles, during the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the British Isles from northern Germany in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. The suffix has since been pressed into wider service with the sense "having the nature or character of", in such examples as childish, freakish, stand-offish, and outlandish. (Today's Good Word was originally written by Grant Hutchison of Dundee, Scotland, whom I haven't heard from now for several years.)
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