Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Little England

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Little England

Article excerpt

In the art of insult, the sting lies in the adjective, no matter how derogatory the noun. So it is 'You stupid bastard.' Last week, David Cameron, by calling opponents of the EU Little Englanders , wanted the epithet little to be transferred to them. He urged voters to say: 'We don't want the Little England of Nigel Farage; we want to be Great Britain.' It recalled a remark from 2014 by Nick Clegg, who actually asked where voters wanted to live -- 'Great Britain or little England?'

Literally, that makes no sense. Great Britain is not a kind of Britain that one would like. It is a geographical term. In 1604 James was proclaimed 'King of Great Britain' -- Scotland, England and Wales. But what does Little England mean? We can set aside a sense from the Elizabethan period meaning a microcosm of England, or even the part of Pembrokeshire called 'Little England beyond Wales'. No, the derogatory sense got going in the 1870s. The Little Englanders opposed imperial adventures.

To elucidate the meaning, The Spectator archive is far more useful than the Oxford English Dictionary . In The Spectator , discussion of Little Englandism reached a height between 1890 and 1910. …

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