Terms of abuse and affection: Do they mean us? They surely do!
Ahead of the Ashes, Australia says it's acceptable to call us 'Pommies'. So who else calls us what - and why?
Thursday 28 September 2006
Pommy Australia, New Zealand
In his semi-autobiographical novel, Kangaroo, detailing a three-month trip through Australia, D H Lawrence muses on the etymology of the phrase, described by the Oxford English Dictionary as a term of "affectionate abuse" when it is deployed alongside the word "bastard".
The author notes: "Pommy is supposed to be short for pomegranate. Pomegranate, pronounced invariably "pommygranate'', is a near enough rhyme to immigrant, in a naturally rhyming country. Furthermore, immigrants are known in their first months, before their blood 'thins down', by their round and ruddy cheeks. So we are told."
Another theory is that Pom is a shortened acronym for Prisoner of Her Majesty.
Los Guiris Spain
It may have been coined in Spain during the civil wars of the 19th century to describe military supporters of Queen Christina. Today, however, the phrase is more typically deployed as an insulting name for a tourist, typically English-speaking, who seeks out the costas for a sun-soaked, alcohol-fuelled holiday of excess.
Considering the proximity between the two nations and their centuries-old rivalry, it comes as little surprise that the British and French have an exhaustive lexicon of terms for each other. Napoleon's troops denigrated their red-coated English foes as Les Homards, or lobsters. But Rosbif is the one term that has persisted, based on a 19th-century perception of British fondness for roast beef.
Con Kikirik Turkey
Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the inhabitants of what is now called Turkey grew accustomed to meeting strangers from distant lands. Some came to conquer them - such as the Greek-speaking Romans of Byzantine - some, such as the Victorian proto-tourists, came to marvel and often take away with them the cultural treasures of the civilisation they beheld.
Britons arriving around this time were referred to by their hosts as Con Kikirik. Curious at the meaning of the phrase, the Victorian travellers soon learnt it was less than complimentary. Con derives from John while Kikirik means beanpole - a candid description of the tall, skinny arrivals from the West.
It soon became a handy term for the American tourists too.
Rooinek South Africa
The British traveller's fair skin made them an easy target for the gibes of swarthier races. In South Africa, the habit of settlers in the early-1880s to wear a hat that failed to cover their necks as they tramped the scorching veld, earned them the name "rooinek", Afrikaans for "red neck". Rudyard Kipling, perhaps the most patriotic chronicler of the British Empire at its height, used the phrase while covering the Boer War for the Daily Express. Indeed it was not uncommon for British people in South Africa as recently as the 1970s to be called "bloody rooineks" by their Afrikaans-speaking neighbours. The term is also applicable to English-speaking South Africans.
The liberal and open-minded Dutch have a characteristically practical term for the British, referring to them as linksrijers, or left-hand drivers. Not so much a slight as a statement of fact, the term alludes to the fact that the Netherlands fell under the yoke of Napoleon's "new rightism" after the conquest of 1795. Until then, the Dutch travelling public traversed its highways and byways much like the rest of Europe, driving on the left. This practice had its origins in feudal society, when the aristocracy would ride on the left to keep their sword-wielding right hands free for defence. The peasantry would tramp along on the right-hand side. In 1794 Napoleon took it upon himself to democratise the roads, decreeing all citizens should travel on the right.
Gwai Lo China
For centuries China held itself separate from the outside world, only engaging with the European powers in the 19th century. Its encounters with British imperialism proved devastating, culminating in the two Opium Wars which led to the Boxer rebellion. In Hong Kong the British, like the other white-skinned arrivals, became known as the Gwai Lo, literally "white ghosts" in Cantonese. Parents once liked to frighten their children with bedtime stories about the Gwai Lo and Gwai Por (ghost woman), Gwai Zai (ghost boy), and Gwai Mui (ghost girl). The most offensive form of the term is Sai Gwai Lo (deathly ghost man). Today however, post-ironic Europeans in Hong Kong revel in the description.
Homey New Zealand
Until the more derogatory "Pom" came into circulation after the Second World War, New Zealanders used the gently mocking "Homey" to needle those British expats who longed for some of the comforts back home rather than embracing fully the life of God's Own Country. Despite this, the descendants of immigrants from the UK continue to make up the largest ethnic group in New Zealand - around 30 per cent of the population. Links between the two countries are still close and immigration continues both ways, with many young New Zealanders regarding a trip to the old country as a rite of passage.
Mzungu Eastern and Southern Africa
Any Western tourist travelling in eastern and southern Africa will soon become acquainted with a cry familiar to the British colonists from the days of Livingstone onwards - "Obeera wa, Mzungu?" - "Where to, Mzungu?" - as locals tout for taxi fares from richer travellers.
Mzungu (plural Wazungu) roughly means "white man" or "white foreigner" in Swahili, although its literal translation offers up the more intriguing, "a man without smell". There are many local variations on Mzungu, including Mazungu and Muzungu (plural Bazungu), but one notable derivative is the derogatory Kazungu, which means "little white person".
One of the more mysterious and lesser-known nicknames for the British. One of the theories surrounding the term's origin is that it was adopted by the Poles as a reference to the British obsession with punctuality and time-keeping. Another theory is that the term actually refers to some long-forgotten event in the history of the two nations. However, a more common word for the English people is Angol or Anglik, which is used in Poland and Hungary without any pejorative interpretation.
Limey US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
By the middle of the 19th century, Britannia ruled the waves. The Royal Navy was the most formidable fighting force ever assembled, while a vast fleet of merchant ships serviced the economic interests of the Empire. Long periods at sea, however, made scurvy an occupational hazard for sailors. Until, that is, James Lind, a Scottish surgeon in the Royal Navy, first hit on the idea of treating the disease with citrus fruit. His book, A Treatise of the Scurvy, published in 1753, not only hit on a cure but helped coin the most enduring name for the British abroad.
The practice of serving limes (they were cheaper than lemons) to sailors first earned British settlers in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa the nickname Limeys, while the ships that transported them became known as Lime-juicers.
The term fell out of use in Australasia in the 19th century but was popularised by Americans and Canadians, who adopted the term around 1918.
The Portuguese call Western tourists, a great numbver of whom are British, "os camones", derived from "come on". Whether this refers to the "come on" of the tourist guide dragging travellers around their umpteenth unspoilt Algarve village, or the goading "come on" of a red-faced, lager-fuelled Brit, is a moot point. Its origins are in the boom in cheap package tourism since the 1960s.
In the First World War, German troops branded their opponents across no man's land Tommys, after Rudyard Kipling's paean to the humble private Tommy Atkins. The more enduring, though still little used, term, especially among the young, is Inselaffe, which translates as island ape - a reference to the alleged backwardness of the occupants of the British Isles.
Only yesterday, secondary school students in Argentina were given revised textbooks describing Britain's "illegal colonisation" of the Falklands. The concept of the British as Piratas looms large in some corners of that nation, despite the 24 years since the Falklands war. Since then football has been the primary conduit for resentment, leading one caller to a Buenos Aires radio station to rejoice - prematurely - at news of David Beckham's injury in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup. "Now those Piratas will have an excuse when they lose," he said. The Piratas won 1-0, after a Beckham penalty.
In Hindi, Angrez means British, or, more accurately, English person, while Gora refers more generally to any white person. Angrez has supplanted the colonial era Britisher of the sub-continent and taken its place in the new "Queen's Hinglish" that now peppers second-generation British-Asian conversation. Linguistic exports such as bungalow, cheetah and pukka form part of a long history of Indian cultural influence on Britain, but they are now being joined by homegrown Hindi and Urdu terms such as badmash, chuddies, innit and, of course, Angrez.
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