The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, February 10, 2004  

Who’s British Anyway?

Looks like it’s time for a geography lesson.

The instructor: Me.

The pupil: Philadelphia Daily News columnist Howard Gensler.

The subject: Great Britain.

In his “Tattle” column today, Gensler, while discussing someone named Catherine Zeta-Jones, an actress, I assume, who recently fired her agent, George Freeman, in an apparently horrifically capricious act that has set the kind of tongues that wag about such things wagging, quoted an unnamed Hollywood “insider” about this truly disturbing contretemps and added an odd, and misguided, editorial parenthetical (Actually, it’s placed within brackets, but I’m not sure there’s a separate word for that. A bracketal? That doesn’t sound right.):

“It is shocking,” said an insider. “George took this little-known British actress [she’s actually Welsh] that no one cared about and made her into an Oscar winner.”

Now, you see, Howard, and this is the geography lesson, there is this island, sort of north and somewhat westerly of continental Europe, that is called Britain, or more commonly, and with not a little exaggeration, Great Britain.

On said island live, among many ancient and recent immigrants, three major ethnic groups, three peoples, if you will: the English, historically concentrated in that part of the island known as England; the Welsh, in that part known as Wales; and the Scottish or Scots, in that which is referred to as Scotland.

Collectively, then, these three major ethic groups, or peoples, can be, should be, and are all considered British. Because they live on the same island. The island of that name. Britain.

So, Howard, while this Zeta-Jones person may either hail from Wales or claim ancestry thereto, she is, in fact, also British, and properly may be referred to as such.

I assume you were confusing or equating the terms British and English, but this is both unwarranted and unwise.

Let me introduce you, briefly, to another concept. The United Kingdom. This term, political in origin and nature, refers to a slightly larger entity comprised of Great Britain and that which is strangely, and a reasonable person might think eccentrically, if not illegitimately, known as Northern Ireland, as in, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Oh, am I boring you? We can pick this up again tomorrow.

[Post-publication addendum: Gensler tells me in an-email that the editorial parenthetical about Zeta-Jones, whoever she is, was added by the PDN’s copy desk. So the lesson, above, is directed, then, not at Gensler, but at the copy desk. Sorry, Howard, but it’s really not my fault, right? How could I have I known? How about lunch? It’s on me.]

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