Call me a pedant? Ok. I accept the accusation. But only sometimes, and with good reason, however.
I confess. Incorrect use of English language and terminology does ‘get my goat’ from time-to-time.
Take media references for example that I’ve seen over recent days to ‘Great Britain’ in the context of the upcoming referendum on membership of the European Union or, in another instance, when referring to the treatment of Muslim immigrants in this country. Let me explain.
‘Great Britain’ is a geographical term. It refers to the largest island of the British Isles, and comprises England, Wales and Scotland and some offshore islands, but not the Channel Islands nor the Isle of Man. It was first officially used in 1474, but there are references to ‘Great Britain’ more than a thousand years earlier by the Greco-Egyptian scientist Claudius Ptolemy.
‘Great Britain’ is NOT an accolade. We may have the world’s fifth largest economy (as the Brexit campaigners are continually telling us), a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (but for how much longer?), and for better or worse (unfortunately for worse, in so many instances) this country has given a lot to the world. Not least the English language. Taking a long hard look at ourselves, we’re really rather an insignificant archipelago off the west coast of continental Europe.
But ‘Great’ has been employed recently, it seems to me, to describe a country that’s punching above its weight that we are special, above average. In other words, ‘great’. Humbug.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud to British, a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I just wish that politicians would stop claiming how the country is best at this or that, as though we are trying to place ourselves at the top of some hypothetical ranking. In my book it never looks good if we use superlatives or claim accolades ourselves. Let others bestow those.
On his return from Brussels after negotiating a change to the UK’s membership of the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron was obviously confused (or maybe using the term merely for effect, if I’m being generous). ‘Let’s make Great Britain greater’, he implored. His speech writers clearly hadn’t got the message.
Then Scottish trawlerman from Peterhead, Jimmy Buchan, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight a couple of nights ago was clearly mistaken. Complaining about EU interference in the fishing industry and the imposition of ‘unfair’ fishing quotas, he claimed a Brexit vote would permit our fisherman, unfettered by such regulations, to have a thriving industry once again (wishful thinking?), and make Great Britain great again.
And then this, just yesterday, in a report about reaction among immigrant Muslim women in the UK to ‘requirements’ that they should become fluent in English. ‘People from third world countries contributed to turning Britain into Great Britain . . . ‘ Undeniably, immigrants from all over have contributed to the well-being and growth of the UK. However, they haven’t made it ‘Great’; it was Great already. But they have made it better.
I just hope that the racist bigotry of some political parties and elements of others does not hold sway when we come to cast our ballots in the EU referendum on 23 June. We might end up as ‘Diminished Britain’.