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Specifically, is it appropriate for a non-British person to call a British person a "Brit"? Whenever I see it from an American source it always feels too familiar or too informal, or both. But I can't tell if that's something real or just my own peculiar hang-up.

How formal is the word "Brit," and how do people from Great Britain feel about others using the word? What about "Brit" as an adjective (e.g., this reference to a "Brit singer")?

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  • NO! I wonder if Yank is acceptable for Americans. ;) May 13 '11 at 19:22
  • @Mr. D: 'Yank'...really not so bad. It doesn't feel derogatory (however much it may be meant).
    – Mitch
    May 13 '11 at 20:57
  • @Mitch: I was just being facetious. Nothing 'meant'. May 13 '11 at 23:12
  • "Yank" is totally a term of respect. I know because I am one. ;) Yankee on the other hand...:P
    – kitukwfyer
    May 13 '11 at 23:50
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    @Mr.Disappointment - at various times, Yank has been proudly adopted by Americans: Yank Magazine, the Army Weekly and at other times has been totally forgotten, so that some Americans feel offended to hear it used by other nationalities - especially by Brits. By the way, there is also an intermittently-published porn mag called "Yank"... but I think that's for a different reason.
    – MT_Head
    Jun 30 '12 at 18:55
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According to the NOAD it's informal. But it doesn't explicitly specify about the adjective being informal.

The OALD agrees on it being informal and there is a good note on it. I'll paste the second part:

The noun Briton is used mainly in newspapers: The survivors of the avalanche included 12 Britons. It also describes the early inhabitants of Britain: the ancient Britons. Brit is informal and can sound negative. Britisher is now very old-fashioned.

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  • 3
    I would say Britisher is not so much old-fashioned, as Indian.
    – Marcin
    May 14 '11 at 7:23
  • You mean in India it is used?
    – Alenanno
    May 14 '11 at 7:25
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    I mean that it is used in Indian English. You may have noticed more than one indian in Britain, and several of their descendants. The first and second generation of immigrants naturally retain some usages from their "home" dialect.
    – Marcin
    May 14 '11 at 7:29
  • Is Brits for British people like Yankee is for Americans? Or is there another term? (especially if used together, "the Yankees and the ...")
    – CodeManX
    Sep 2 '15 at 15:43
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    The word "Yankee" is not used in Britain. However in both Britain and Australia, Americans tend to be known informally, especially by an older generation, as "Yanks" - a word which always seems to carry a slightly distanced respect. "Brit" is a relatively new coinage (last 30 years), emanating I suspect from America.
    – WS2
    Mar 21 '20 at 23:43
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I am British, live in Britain and can state I have never heard the British use the term "Brit" about themselves. Nor have I heard any other country use it other than the Americans. We tend to say "I am British" rather than "I am a Brit". Newspapers refer to British people as "British" or "Britons" (as in "ten Britons died in the fire"). We would say "were there any British people there?" or "were there any British there?" — never "were there any Brits there?".

Offensive? Not really — more disrespectful because it suggests the Americans can't be bothered to use our terminology and have to invent their own.

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    A Google News search shows "Brit" appearing in stories from a number of British sources, including the Guardian, the Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Evening Standard. I suppose that could just be headlinese (or tabloidese).
    – phenry
    May 13 '11 at 22:53
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    Somebody said, "To most of the world, 'Yankee' means American; to an American, 'Yankee' means Northerner; to a 'Northerner', 'Yankee' means a New Englander; to a New Englander, 'Yankee' means someone from Maine; people from Maine don't use the word." May 15 '11 at 19:31
  • 1
    I concur with @prustage, but Brit/Brits does appear quite often in tabloid newspapers, which is perhaps why it suggests (to me) a level of ignorance. "Brit" sounds like unwelcome tabloid familiarity (like calling Madonna "Madge "or Susan Boyle "SuBo"). I prefer simply to be called British.
    – njd
    May 16 '11 at 14:20
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    @Malvolio as a New Englander, to me a Yankee doesn't mean someone from Maine, it's just another word for a New Englander. People from Maine are known as Maniacs.
    – Darwy
    Jun 9 '11 at 23:53
  • In America, we call a person from the UK a "Brit". Mar 21 '20 at 23:01
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It's what I would use informally about myself and is becoming more common with phrases like "Brit-pop".
Briton is a bit more formal but in speech it's hard to distinguish from Britain.

It's definitely not offensive in the same way as Jap or Paki would be.

5

It used to be used negatively in Northern Ireland ("Brits out"), and I would find it mildly offensive, but would always take the biggest cue from who said it and how it was said rather than the word itself

4

Brit is definitely a commonly used word for describing people from Britain. While it may turn up in the occasional tabloid headline, it is mostly used by 'non-brits'.

However...

I am English and personally I don't like to be considered a 'Brit' because it has several negative connotations, one example being 'Brits Abroad' which refers to the British hooligan holidayers who travel to popular beach destinations and get drunk and disorderly.

For this reason, I prefer English. I would also suggest that citizens of the other British countries would also prefer to be referred to by their own nationality (Irish, Scottish, Welsh) due to various conflicts in the past (generally with England).

As for formality, it is definitely informal, having only come into use in the last century.

Hope this helps.

N.B. As an adjective, 'British' is more applicable since 'Brit' is the noun. The same can be done with 'Scottish' and 'Scot', with 'Scot' being a noun.

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  • 1
    You should be aware, however, that we in the US have no good terms available for Rightpondians. Rather, we have the vague, uneasy sense that any term we use will be offensive to some constituency or another. Should we say "England" or "Britain" or "UK"? One has the feeling that some group will feel unfairly included or excluded, depending. This is not a 'plaint nor a whinge, merely a general observation.
    – The Raven
    May 15 '11 at 16:38
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    I need to tread carefully here... I would imagine that many Americans would be unable to distinguish between people of the different nations within the UK and this is most like the root of the problem you have outlined. You would risk offending if you called an Irish person English, for example but of course, these generalisations are quite natural. So I see your point, but it is most likely a product of (literal) ignorance more than anything else.
    – Karl
    May 15 '11 at 17:42
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    Likewise, I would not be able to tell an American from one state or another, but we have the luck of all the states being in just one country, so the same problem does not arise. Basically, the safest bet is to refer to the individual's nationality (Scottish, English, Irish, Wales) and if you don't know, then fall back on 'British' - avoid 'Brit'.
    – Karl
    May 15 '11 at 17:43
  • Exactly so, Karl. I don't take your use of the term "ignorance" the wrong way at all. Surely "Brit" is informal and has a sense of being equivalent to "Yank," so it could be used in good fun or made to be somewhat pejorative. Certainly not on the same level as the Australian "Seppo." (Seppo = septic tank = Yank.)
    – The Raven
    May 15 '11 at 18:00
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It's not offensive. It's not commonly used here for ourselves, and I've never heard other Europeans use it.

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I'd say Brit is about equivalent to Yank. It is usually used with slightly derogatory overtones, but it isn't very offensive (but is very informal). My (US) car registration is BRITSKI because I'm a British Skier, but 7 letters is rather limiting. I wouldn't normally use Brit; I'd not get up in arms about it, unless the rest of the context was nasty (and the 'up in arms' would be about the context more than the use of Brit).

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    If I were driving behind you, I'd assume you were of British-Polish extraction.
    – The Raven
    May 15 '11 at 16:26
  • @The Raven: fair enough. Maybe the Tahoe plates with a snowy mountain or the Alpine Meadows skiing sticker might help... May 15 '11 at 17:16
0

OED

Brit, n.3 and adj.

A British person; (= Briton n. 2.) Only occasionally found before the second half of the 20th cent.; in early use not a self-designation.

Note the first example is American English and not complementary. The 1904 example is Australian and, at that time, Australians were considered "British".

1884 Galveston (Texas) News 12 Sept. 3/3 Let the News make a suggestion—that the Brits call themselves Yankees.

1904 D. B. W. Sladen Playing Game i. v ‘Imperial Government! I call that too damned funny! Do you mean the Japs?’ ‘That word is most offensive to them. How would we like to be called Brits?’

The next two quotes are both from British authors:

1961 S. Price Just for Record viii. 69 Your working-class Brit is a glutton for celebrities.

2005 T. Hall Salaam Brick Lane v. 102 What does it take to break the ice with the Brits? A power drill?

Brit is informal and neutral.

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  • What does the first example not complement?
    – Conrado
    Apr 22 '20 at 22:35

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