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When I search the definition of Caucasian in the NOAD, I find the following definition (it's the first of three definitions):

  1. (often offensive) of or relating to one of the traditional divisions of humankind, covering a broad group of peoples from Europe, western Asia, and parts of India and North Africa. [ORIGIN: so named because the German physiologist Blumenbach believed that it originated in the Caucasus region of southeastern Europe.] • white-skinned; of European origin.

In a note, the dictionary says also

In the racial classification as developed by anthropologists in the 19th century, Caucasian (or Caucasoid) included peoples whose skin color ranged from light (in northern Europe) to dark (in parts of North Africa and India). Although the classification is outdated and the categories are now not generally accepted as scientific (see usage at Australoid and Mongoloid), the term Caucasian has acquired a more restricted meaning. It is now used, especially in the U.S., as a synonym for white or of European origin, as in the following citation: the police are looking for a Caucasian male in his forties.

Is Caucasian understood to have these meanings also in other English dialects?

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Growing up in the US, I only ever heard "Caucasian" as a synonym for "white folks." Imagine my surprise when, years later, I started hanging out with Russians and discovered that "Caucasians", to ethnic Russians, are... um, nonwhite. In fact, among the некультурный, it's common to refer to Caucasians as "black asses." It's a funny old world. –  MT_Head Jul 12 '11 at 2:58
    
@MT_Head - Yeah. There are in fact real ethnic "Caucasians", and their language at least is not Indo-Europian, making them no more closely related to most european "white" folk than Arabs or Basques. –  T.E.D. Sep 21 '11 at 13:22
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@T.E.D.:language and race are not connected. –  Mitch Oct 26 '11 at 11:25
    
@Mitch - That's a tricky one. "Race" is a concept that isn't easy to define at all (and often really has no meaning). However, language and culture tend to go hand-in-hand, and culture does have a tendency to create eddies in the human race's genetic pool. Since language can be objectively studied, when someone wants to talk about race, generally they should either be discoraged from doing so, or the discussion should be steered towards language instead. –  T.E.D. Oct 26 '11 at 12:58
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@T.E.D.: I think you’re rather overstating a point there. Certainly, traditional constructs of race and ethnicity have been awfully subjective, and hugely influenced by prejudice. And language is something more clear-cut that correlates with ‘race’. But there are other objective features, too, that correspond more closely to people’s ideas of what ‘race’ means, and so are more appropriate in trying to clarify discussions about race. –  PLL Oct 27 '11 at 15:57

2 Answers 2

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Yep. In my own experience, casual use of this sense of Caucasian is just as prevalent in the UK and Australia as in the US. Searching for it in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Mail confirms this with plenty of home-grown examples.

On the other hand, at least some British publications make an effort to use it more precisely: e.g. searching in the Guardian, most uses are either specifically discussing Chechnya, Georgia, etc., or else are in direct quotations.

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I'm not saying it's not used in the UK, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone use it outside of very formal 'police' scenarios. Many of the Daily Mail examples in the above link are specifically about race, so maybe their editorial style justifies the term's use in those circumstances. But I can honestly say that I've never heard anyone refer to a white person as caucasian in normal conversation. –  tinyd Oct 26 '11 at 17:40

As far as I know, the usage for Caucasian meaning "white people" is only common in the US. I was quite startled, when I came across the term filling out some US forms. Beforehand, traveling in Europe (also UK), I was not aware of its broad definition.

Searching for the term in the archives of 'The Economist' also gives you mostly hits with its more narrow meaning, referring to the Caucasus.

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasian_race

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'"I presume the deceased was Caucasian?" "No, why would you think that? He was purely English." Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One –  TimLymington Jul 14 '11 at 13:27
    
Let me expand the quotation… "I presume your Loved One was Caucasian." "No, why do you think that? He was purely English." "English are purely Caucasian, Mr. Barlow. –  Mykola Sep 24 '13 at 7:24

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