The pedants are revolting!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I have absolutely no intention of wading into the whole Scottish independence debate on here. I spend my life uncomfortably wedged between a fervent nationalist (my mother) and a staunch unionist (my husband), so the only sensible course of action here is for me to sink gratefully into a warm bath of indifference. It's a self-preservation thing.

But there is one thing that never fails to ruffle the calm waters of my disinterest. One thing guaranteed to have me leaping to my feet, dripping with righteous indignation. This one thing can be summed up in eight short words:

"England" and "Britain" are not the same thing.

One more time, for the folks at the back:

"England" and "Britain" are NOT. THE. SAME. THING.

Those of you who live on this fair isle will I hope be reasonably familiar with this concept. Those of you who live in other places, places where pants are trousers and sunshine is more than a bi-annual occurrence, well, I understand that the United Kingdom has a unique constitutional arrangement and not everyone in the entire world is educated about it from birth (more's the pity). But oh good lord, whenever I hear people referring to England when they mean the UK, it drives me crazy.

To be clear: I say this not as a patriot (although I am quite fond of our soggy little nation, and it hurts me to see it perceived as just another English county), but as an irredeemable, incurable pedant. 

Seriously. It's like a disease. Whenever someone writes or says something that I know to be factually incorrect in even the smallest respect, I find it physically painful to keep my corrections to myself. My husband will confirm that it is my most irritating trait. And not in an endearing way.

At least I'm aware of it, and I am *trying* to get better. I almost got into a disagreement with one of my closest friends over whether it was James Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks who announced the News of the World closure to its staff. Even though I knew the answer (hint: it wasn't the redhead) and even though there was a computer sitting there winking at me, flashing its search engines, offering to prove me right, I somehow managed to restrain myself and just... let it go. Because does being right matter more than being a friend? No. Probably. No, definitely no.

(Although apparently I didn't really let it go, since this happened in July and I'm clearly still bitter about it. And now I've flaunted my rightness all over my blog. Like I said: incurable.)

So who has incurred my pedantic wrath this week, I hear you cry? Well, it was none other than the goddess that is Meryl Streep. Usually, Meryl can do no wrong in my eyes, but after winning a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, she made sure to thank, in her speech, "everybody in England" for letting her "trample all over their history".

Oh, Meryl. Meryl, Meryl, Meryl. How could you let me down like this? You seem like an intelligent woman. You've just spent weeks living in this country. Worse than that, you were here giving what could be the defining performance of your career as one of the most notorious leaders this country has ever had. How is it possible that you still don't know what this country is called? Margaret Thatcher was not the Prime Minister of England. England does not have a Prime Minister. England no longer has a parliament. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland does. LOOK IT UP.

And, breathe.

There is another possibility, of course. Maybe Meryl's speech was really a clever allusion to the fact that, even though Thatcher decimated Scotland's industrial communities, put a fifth of its workforce out of a job within the first two years of her administration and imposed upon its people the most unpopular tax in Scottish history, her Conservative government never actually won a majority in Scotland. So we do technically have the people of England (well, okay, mainly the posh ones in the south) to thank for that. (Thanks.)

In which case, Meryl, by all means - trample away. I'll even hold your giant skirt for you.

Images: Site of the National Mining Museum of Scotland at the former Lady Victoria Colliery near Edinburgh, by LDN Architects.

17 boats moored

  1. Excellent post. Having lived in England for five years I can't tell you how many times I have gone purple with rage about this. Is it really possible they don't realise the difference? Why???? Pedantry can be fun.
    Re. independence I'm totally undecided and the current debate seems more interesting in entrenching the two sides than actually answering questions about how the whole thing would work/demonstrating that it wouldn't.
    In London just before Christmas a friend's colleague asked me what way I thought the referendum would go and I said it could go either way. To which he replied 'oh don't be ridiculous the Scots would be backwards without us'. I suspect the SNP planted him to piss off Scots into voting their way...

  2. Love the pictures in this post, how do you find these things?!
    Know exactly what you mean. My husband gets into regular debates with people about Scottish independance but I tend to stay indifferent too - I think this really winds him up!

  3. Meryl, quelle faux pas!! That's pretty bad. I have your disease, I think. It's Americanisms that wind me up the most, like the number of my friends who insist on calling gigs "shows" and say they're going to the movies with no sign of tongue in their cheek. Cupcakes....well. Don't get me started. If you call them anything else now people don't know what you're talking about. I think this means I'm fighting a losing battle.


    1. Oh yessss, Americanisms. That's a whole other post. In fact it's a whole other blog (try this one).

      I used to get really annoyed by the cupcake thing, until I found out from reading my Mary Berry cookbok that cupcakes are actually a completely different thing from fairy cakes - different recipe, different icing, just a completely different cake. So I don't mind people calling them cupcakes if they *are* cupcakes (i.e. topped with a two-inch slab of sickly butter icing). But it makes me sad that people have stopped making fairy cakes, although I like to keep the flame alive by making them for baking days at work. Preferably with sprinkles. I'm so mature.

  4. Have I told you I love you lately? Probably not enough, in which case, I LOVE YOU. You give good rant.

    Sadly, I was guilty of this all the time when I first came to England to study I'm afraid, often through just careless slips of the tongue. I was intellectually aware of the difference, but had just very infrequently encountered anything that was specifically Scottish or Welsh or Irish prior to moving here, and didn't realise what a big deal it was for people to be misidentified. Also, I couldn't tell accents apart at first, which didn't help. (To the lovely Welsh girl on my floor who stopped speaking to me after I make a joke about 'English people', I'm still sorry.) (Although, to be fair, many supposedly highly educated people around me were guilty of pretty stupid questions as to whether or not Trinidad had roads and 'proper' houses and any kind of basic infrastructure, which seemed inappropriate considering our colonial history, so I'm perhaps less sorry than I maybe should be. Ahem.)

    Interestingly, when I was made a British citizen last year, I was made just that - a BRITISH citizen. Even though my ceremony happened in England, there's no distinguishing country on any of the documentation. I'm apparently not English, just British, whatever that means. It's a pretty vague concept, actually.

    1. Aw, thanks lady. You're forgiven. And if it's any consolation, people in America have asked me whether Scotland has roads, too. As well as complimenting me on my English, asking to see my clan ring and claiming Peter is an American name. Sigh. (I'm sorry Americans, I don't want to seem like I'm singling you out. I had a Dutch guy ask me a really stupid question about Scotland too, and you can practically see us from the Netherlands, so you're not alone.)

      I think the idea of being Scottish or English or Welsh is more complicated than just nationality - it's an identity thing, and it would be almost impossible to ever switch from one to another. Nothing says Scottish anywhere on my passport or anything either, since immigration is dealt with at a UK level. I think the only time it really officially matters is for university tuition fees (the whole thing is madness) or if you want to play for the national football team (not something that has ever particularly troubled me).

    2. I feel you both on the "are there roads" type questions. As I'm from Texas, I've gotten "do you ride horses to school" and "do you have video games" (granted, that was in 7th grade, but people do still seem to think nothing's changed here since the cowboy days of the Wild West).

  5. Being English but living in Scotland for the last 12 years and being married to a Scottish boy I totally understand but was once guilty. When I first came to Scotland I didn't understand the anger until I really started to listen and notice how many times the reference is made to England and not Britain. We English are simply not taught any different and are not corrected enough for there to be an impact. There are times when I still slip up but I try really hard not to.

  6. Rosie (aka Kirsty's Mum)19 January 2012 at 14:49

    This made me laugh out so loudly! Mainly, because I had exactly the same rant at your father about Ms Streep's English comments, closely followed by a list of all the awful things she had done to Scotland. Again, like mother, like daughter. I am sorry you are marooned between this old nationalist and your unionist husband - just tell him, I have a few friends in high places who will make sure he is well looked after in an independent Scotland if I an not around when that day dawns! Hee, hee,

  7. I'm sorry about Meryl letting you down, she's a Vassar girl and should know better...Rebecca does! mind you Rebecca is married to the US's no 2 pedant, I am married to no 1! How I managed to hold my own in "discussions" before the advent of Google I don't know.It's good to know pedants are widespread through the family! Having lived in the US for almost 30 yrs I get the England/Britain all the time mind you I also got in terrible trouble from your mum for calling trousers "Pants"!What can I say I'm bi lingual! In spite of Meryl's mistake it was one of the best acting jobs I've ever seen..still can't stand "Thatcher Milk Snatcher".

  8. Yup, with you all the way on this. I once worked in Eastern Europe with a team who were mostly from England, but there were two of us from Scotland on the team too. Other people on the team kept introducing us as being from England - which I would always correct as saying we were from Britain. Which was bad enough, but one time another team member blew up at me for always correcting them...and it was at that point that I realised they didn't know that England isn't Britain and that Scotland isn't part of England. Politely explaining the difference whilst feeling nationalistic rage is a skill I have get to master!

  9. (I originally read the title as "peNdants are revolting" and I was so very confused. Pedants makes much more sense.)

    Americans are horribly guilty of using British when actually meaning English. Most of us really just don't know better. Frankly, we're not taught about it at all, so the whole separate-countries-but-one-united-kingdom/Great-Britain thing is very confusing. Plus, from here it seems that everything is centered in London, which is in England, therefore making English = British. Kind of like how the rest of the world thinks the US is all like California or New York and super dramatic and never progressing past high school.

    I've become much more sensitive to it since "meeting" all you lovely British folk, so hearing "British accent" and such like really grates on my nerves. I try not to correct everyone all the time (Kirsty, I have your same affliction) unless it's something that really should be corrected. I should probably extend that courtesy to other subjects, too, now that I think about it. Hmm.

  10. I couldn't have said it better myself! All this talk of 'British accents' is seriously infuriating. What's more infuriating is that this so-called British accent is usually a cut glass Queen's English accent.

    At least when you say to non-UK people that you're from Scotland, you won't get people going 'oh, do you live in London?' and then staring blankly when you say that you don't. You'll probably just get the blank stare and nothing else haha!

  11. It's hard to let go of the small things.

    Anyway, send them this

    Or even better, a Venn diagram

    Happy New Year lady!

  12. I like the title of this post a lot, and being from a half Scottish, half English family (my mum Scottish, dad English, brother Scottish, sister English) and about to marry a Scotsman I see the frustration a lot.

  13. ...which is why when people here (Canada) ask of where do I come from, I say 'England' and that I am 'English', as opposed to 'British' which I probably would do if I were say of a non-English, but heritage such as Italian, or Indian or Chinese etc... But is complicated...