Culture and literature 2 summary
British country and people
The origin of ‘great’ in the name Great Britain was not a piece of advertising
(although modern politicians sometimes try to use it in that way). It was first used to
distinguish it from the smaller area in France which is called ‘Brittany’ in modern
- In the geographical area there are two states. One of these governs most of the
island of Ireland, this state is usually called The Republic of Ireland, also called ‘Eire’.
- The other state has authority over the rest of the area (whole GB, the north-eastern
area of Ireland and most of the smaller islands), this is the UK.
The British Isles
- Since there is no name for the collection of Great Britain, Ireland and all the smaller
islands. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they were generally called
‘The British Isles’. But most people in Ireland and some in Britain regard this name as
outdated because it refers to the time when Ireland was politically dominated by
- ‘The north-east atlantic archiprlago’ ,IONA, or ‘the isles’ have been used but none has
been widely accepted
- The most common term nowadays is ‘Great Britain and Ireland’, but even this is not
strictly correct. Geographically because it ignores all the smaller islands and
politically because there are two small parts of the area on the maps which have
special political arrangements.
The four nations
- The four nations are: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
- Some people refer to Britain as England, but this is not correct and can make some
people angry, since England is only one of the four nations.
- In 1800, the political unification (which was a gradual development that took several
hundreds of years) was completed when the Irish parliament was joined with
England, Scotland and Wales in Westminster. However, in 1922 most of Ireland
became a separate state.
- A word used by poets and songwriters to refer, in different contexts, to England or to
Scotland or to GB as a whole.
- It comes from a Celtic word and was an early Greek and Roman name for GB
- The romans associated GB with the Latin word ‘albus’ meaning white, this comes
from the white chalk cliffs of dover which is the first thing you see when crossing the
sea from the European mainland.
- The name that the Romans gave to their Southern British province (which
approximately covered the area of present-day England and Wales)
- It is also the name of the female embodiment of Britain always shown wearing a
helmet and holding a trident (the symbol of power over the sea), hence the patriotic
song which begins ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves’. The figure of Britannia
has been on the reverse side of many British coins of more than 300 years.
- A poetic name for Ireland
Tokens of national identity
The following are associated by British people with one or more of the four nations
- Surnames, the prefix ‘mac’ or ‘mc’ (such as McCall or MacDonald) is Scottish or Irish.
The prefix ‘O’ (as in O’Brien) is Irish. A large number of surnames (for example, Evans,
Jones, Morgan, Price, Williams) suggest Welsh origin. The most common surname in
both England and Scotland is ‘Smith’.
- First names for men, The Scottish of ‘John’ is ‘Ian’ and its Irish form is ‘Sean’,
although all three names are common throughout Britain. Outside their own
countries there are also nicknames for Irish, Scottish and Welsh men. For instance,
Scottish men are sometimes known and addressed as ‘Jock’, Irishmen are called
‘Paddy’ or ‘Mick’ and Welshmen as ‘Dai’ or ‘Taffy’. If the person using these terms is
not a personal friend, and especially if it’s used in the plural (e.g. ‘Micks’), it can
- Clothes, the kilt, a skirt with a tartan pattern worn by men, is a very well-known
symbol of Scottishness (though it is hardly ever worn in everyday life).
The dominance of England
- The dominant culture of Britain today is specifically English. The system of politics
that is used in all four nations today is of English origin, and English is the main
language in all four nations. Many aspects of everyday life are organized according to
English custom and practice.
- This political unification of Britain was not achieved by mutual agreement, but
because England was able to assert her economic and military power over the other
- Today, English domination can be detected in the way in which various aspects of
British public life are described. For example, the supply of money in Britain is
controlled by the bank of England (there is no bank of Britain). Another example is
the name of the present monarch, which is known as Elizabeth II even though