Why is it Englishman, Frenchman, etc. (one word) but British man (two words)?


3 Answers 3


It has to do with etymology and usage.

Old English made use of compounds:


The word was in use before, is still today and its spelling has been reformed to Englishman.

There are other words that were in use before and not today:


The use of the word British may have come into popular use only after, in the 18th Century, when it became interchangeable with English. At the time the English language did not tend to make use of full word compounds that would lead to words like Britishman. Moreover, the word British means related to the Britons (as yellowish means related to yellow) and it would be used as an adjective to British Isles, the people themselves were called Britons.

Similar treats are found in French, while no full-word compounds exist today, words like partout (par tout, lit. "through all", i.e. everywhere), aujourd'hui (au jour d'hui, lit. "at the day of today", i.e. today) and beaucoup (beau coup, lit. "a beautiful hit", i.e. a lot) are still in use.

  • Nice explanation, but yellowish actually means 'somewhat yellow': see english.stackexchange.com/q/3663/8019 Jan 12, 2012 at 15:33
  • @TimLymington: somewhat yellow and related to yellow is barely different on an abstract level, I understand it as a genitive i.e. belonging to yellow or of the yellow class, you could paraphrase this in many more ways. Jan 12, 2012 at 16:06
  • The difference is shown in Jonathan Miller's joke: "I'm not really a Jew. Just Jew-ish, not the whole hog." If the difference between that and ?'belonging to Jews' isn't important to you, fair enough; but it does exist. Jan 13, 2012 at 11:56
  • @TimLymington: I am just pointing out that the -ish is a genitive inflexion, which can be nuanced in its context. I understand the nuance and still you could say the man relates to Jews who is partly Jew, and yellowish relates to yellow. This is defined grammatically as genitive and genitive in and of itself does not tell the degree to which the relation holds. I think the nuance is contextual only. Jan 13, 2012 at 12:24

Probably because Britisher already exists, even as Brit, Briton, even the British.


The above answers are a bit wrong, I’m afraid.

The reason is simply because Britain isn’t a country! It’s a sovereign state made up of four countries, England, Wales, Scotland and Northen Ireland. Notice how Englishman, Welshman, Scotsman and Irishman all sound right.

Because Britain is a state, it would be like calling a man from Texas a Texasman, or someone from Alabama an Alabamaman. (Try saying that after a few!)

  • I'm glad you edited all wrong to a bit wrong. Your point may be valid to some extent but I believe Benjamin's answer, from an etymological point of view, is pretty good.
    – Elzee
    Feb 18, 2013 at 14:40
  • I'm glad as well!
    – Starkers
    Feb 18, 2013 at 14:43
  • Whereas we do have Americaman, Canadaman and Russiaman?
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 18, 2013 at 15:16
  • Really? From what I've heard, no-one in England or Wales would call an American and Americaman, or any of the others. I have only lived in Wales and England, though.
    – Starkers
    Feb 18, 2013 at 16:09
  • 1
    But you do get a Yorkshireman.
    – neil
    Feb 18, 2013 at 16:51

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