What people really want to know about Britain

How do I find out what people want to know about Britain? I scrape the floor of the search engine room and see what questions were stuck there. It’s completely scientific.

The questions appear in italics and in all their original oddity. The answers are in Roman type, which although almost no one knows it is the opposite of italic type. And in case you’re worried that I’m insulting the people who were kind enough to leave me their questions, I’m pretty sure they fled long ago, leaving me a free hand.


So what’s your country called anyway?

why is england named great britain

Have you ever noticed that when you start with the wrong question you end up with the wrong answer? Gravity’s to blame here. There’s no escaping it. 

I blame England for the confusion. Or possibly Britain or the United Kingdom. Or someone, because it’s important to have someone to blame. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are innocent bystanders in this. They got pulled in by the gravity (see? I came back to that) of a larger neighbor.

In the interest of saving space: England’s part of Britain. Britain’s not really a country, that’s the United Kingdom. It’s just–well, think of Britain and the UK’s nickname. It’s all very confusing. The good news is that with Britain having left the European Union, the UK’s likely to come un-united, in which case the question of what to call it will be simplified.

Even if nothing else it.

hy are we called great britain

Hi. Yes, we are. 

Irrelevant photo: potted violas.

Important questions about British culture and history

Why are British roads so narrow?

It keeps out the riffraff.

did the tudors have chimneys

No, but some of their houses did. 

what does british understatement mean

It’s when you understate something. In Britain. Or elsewhere if you are British and like to carry a national stereotype (or characteristic; take your choice) around the world with you. 

I do hope that helps.

is uk beer stonger then american

This is such a regular question (although it usually comes with another R mashed in somewhere, and a few other spelling changes) that I’ve started to ignore it, but it’s time to say greet to an old friend again. This is what the world wants to know about Britain: How much beer do I have to pour down my throat before I get shitfaced?

I always did say that travel broadens the mind.

anglo saxon hunting

The Anglo-Saxons came, they stayed, they hunted. And did a few other things while they were at it, including contributing some lovely swear words to the language. Allegedly.

One important difference between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, who took the country from them, is that under the Normans hunting and fishing were tightly restricted. And these weren’t sports for most people but an important part of how they managed to eat. The Norman aristocracy not only owned the land but every wild beast and weed that grew, ran, or slithered thereupon. And also the water and its fish. Hunt the lord’s whatever and you could end up getting killed for it–quite legally. 

I’d love to know more about the Anglo-Saxon laws and traditions about hunting and land ownership. If anyone wants to point me at a good source, I’d be grateful.

in the times when people wore wigs did mice get into them

Contrary to popular opinion and in spite of how popular wigs were among the upper classes, the fashion was limited to humans, British mice never wore them. This supports the argument that they had better sense than the upper class humans.

emmit website cornwall prank

In Cornwall, emmits are tourists if you speak American and holidaymakers if you speak British. But they don’t call themselves emmits, because that’s Cornish. It means ants. So if they start a website, they’re not likely to call themselves emmits.

Presumably that’s where the prank part comes in.  

That’s an extended way of saying that I don’t know anything useful about this.

medieaval attitudes to male homosexuality the church

Short answer, they didn’t approve of it. Longer answer, they weren’t obsessed with it in the way that so many later churches were (and that some still are). Homosexuality was just one sin on a long list of thou-shalt-nots. And the idea that homosexuals formed a category? That doesn’t seem to have figured into the way people thought about either themselves or each other. 


Pandemic questions

will the uk go into a full lockdown

I’m late answering this. Sorry, but it does mean that I don’t have to speculate. Yes, we did, but we waited for the virus to get a head start. Never say that sportspersonship is dead. 

eek and kent varients

Eek indeed.

Most people will want to spell variant with an A, but language changes and maybe we’re looking, appropriately enough, at a variant spelling.


Why questions

why does sensus ask if someone has stayed overbight?

Because it’s useful to know about the dental health of the population. How many people in your household have an overbite? Did it stay or did it leave with a visitor?

why do cars look like they are going faster on narrow road

Because of the natural reaction of human beings, when watching a car drive too fast for the conditions, to think, Oh, shit, that doesn’t look good. Narrow road. Relatively high speed. Ergh. 

Why did I get this question? Because I wrote a couple of posts about narrow roads. I am now an expert. 

why do americans have post boxes

To hold our letters.

why don’t american houses have letterboxes

Our letters are free range. We sit around waiting for them to mosey down the street and lasso them as they come past. If we get a lot of them, we herd them into the corral. It brings neighbors together to exchange letters so that they get to the right houses. Sometimes they stampede, though, which can get dangerous.

Why do I get questions asking why we do and don’t do the same thing? Because a lot of people start with their conclusions and look for the evidence. This protects them, at least to an extent, from finding contradictory evidence. This is why the world continues spinning.


Questions I can’t explain, never mind answer

note all.siftay

Now this one was interesting. I referred the question to Lord Google, who referred me to an Urdu grammar site, a site that’s partially in Hebrew, an auction site (23% commission),  and a Board of Management meeting of Perth College.

Best guess? The meeting would be more interesting than your average management meeting. Or at least stranger.

brexit and good from ietnam

Lord Google and I both inserted a V into this, giving us Vietnam. Vietnam and Britain did reach a trade deal when the Brexit deadline was looming. Was this particularly good news for either of them? No idea.I don’t think either country is a major trading partner for the other. 

jenny mollica atemkurs

As should already be clear, I often ask Lord Google about questions I can’t make sense of, since it was Lord G. who sent the questions to me in the first place. Some turn out to be about a person I mentioned once and forgot. Checking allows me to pretend that I still remember them. Other times, the questions turn out to be about someone I never heard of, but at least I’m reassured that we’re all operating in consensual virtual reality. 

But when I typed in “Jenny Mollica Atemkurs,” Lord G. told me that there weren’t many great matches for my search. That’s a first. He’s never held out for great before, probably because he considers his suggestions wondrous, however strange they seem to me.

But not this time. The world may be full of Jennys, but he held out for the Mollica Atemkurs kind and found none.

Why the question ended up with me remains unknown.


The fill-in-the-blank challenge

this meant that rotten borough _____ represented a tiny number of people in ______.

Ooh, we’re playing MadLibs with somebody’s term paper. 

I’m not in love with my offering, but that’s okay, it’ll give you the satisfaction of being funnier: “This meant that rotten borough X represented a tiny number of people in Y.” Hand that to your algebra teacher. They’ll  be so impressed.


For those of you who enjoy the history posts: I will get back to them. In theory, I post something non-news related on Fridays. Ideally, it’s about English (or possibly British) history or culture (using an expansive definition of culture). But I got seduced by too much news this week, not to mention by some good weather, and didn’t leave myself enough time. Stay with me. I’ll get back to it. 

53 thoughts on “What people really want to know about Britain

  1. Stuff that I always want to ask Americans
    1 Why call your game football, when you throw it and, and it isn’t technically a ball (I think balls are defined as spherical)?
    2 why are your light switches so big? (at least they appear to be on TV series) and the opposite way round to British
    3 Why do I talk with an “English” accent? I’m English, from England and speak English! You lot come from America, and talk English with an American accent! Does this happen with Spanish? If someone came from Barcelona and spoke Spanish, would it be with a Spanish accent?

    And yes our beer is a tad stronger, comes in pints and is much darker and richer in flavo(u)r. Most Americans appear to drink what is known as lager over in Europe and Gnat’s P*** over here!

    Liked by 3 people

    • 1. Why not? We do kick the ball from time to time. Certainly compared to baseball. I went as far as looking up the definition of ball. It’s spherical or egg shaped. Close enough. We’re working on getting American chickens to be lay patriotically football-shaped eggs.

      2. Why not?

      2.a. I don’t actually remember them being any bigger, but then I’m not a light switch obsessive, so that could easily have bypassed my consciousness.

      3. It does happen in Spanish. In Spain, the double-L is pronounced LY. In Mexico, it has a lightly J-like sound. In other countries (don’t ask me which ones), it’s a Y sound. Caribbean Spanish, to my ear, sounds so liquid that it seems to dispense with half its consonants. It’s all part of the unaccountable evolution that languages go through. I find it fascinating, but I can’t explain why it happens. I don’t know that anyone can.

      Liked by 1 person

    • There are two kinds of light switches commonly used in North America. The regular ones are about the same size as the UK version, but stick out more. The posh version looks like a UK switch multiplied by three or four, and is supposedly easier to hit with an elbow if your hands are full.

      The flimsy little electrical plugs, on the other hand, are absolutely indefensible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “I’m late answering this. Sorry, but it does mean that I don’t have to speculate” – you summed up in a nut shell why I like History. We already know what happened and we can just argue about why something happened etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We’ve had sun for several days running. That must mean we’re in a drought. Anyway, signs are positive for a good weekend, thanks. Wishing you the same.

      And I hadn’t thought about that line about there being no stupid questions. If I can remember it long enough, do you mind if I borrow it? If I can remember to, I’ll credit you.

      No promises on either of those ifs. My memory’s terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. anglo saxon hunting

    I think you got this wrong. It’s like “dear hunting”, “bear hunting”, or in England “fox hunting”. They want to know about anglo saxon hunting. Seasons, limits, and do you use rifles, arrows, or snares.

    jenny mollica atemkurs

    I think this was a lack of punctuation, it was probably jenny mollify ate mkurs. Now, what a mkurs is is anyones guess.Doing a quick search (I do searches, I don’t google anything) I get:

    Mount Kenya University at Rwanda. Can’t imagine she ate an entire university, but could be why they’re asking, maybe they can’t imagine that either.

    From the Urban Dictionary it’s the same as mkay…mkay is slang for ok. Why? Something on the show South Park. So, probably something jenny ate that moseyed around in the OK Corral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That Jenny. I had no idea. She’s not someone you’d want to invite over for fear she’d, quite literally, eat you out of house and home. Which brings me to dear hunting. Do not hunt your dears. You’ll find they no longer want to be loved by you. Deer hunting’s also problematic for a vegehoovian, but less shocking.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales. The “Great” is so that Romans did not get confused between Great Britain and either Ireland or Brittany, which apparently they might have done otherwise. The United Kingdom is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. None of these should be confused with “the British Isles”, which includes the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland, although the Republic gets extremely narky if people use that term. All totally straightforward and not even remotely confusing (ahem) …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ahem indeed. And how embarrassing it would’ve been for the Romans to have ended up in Brittany or Ireland when they meant to land in, um, one of those other places.

      It all reminds me of a writer I knew a hundred years ago, who changed her professional name when she got divorced and then remarried. I think she stopped at three names, but I did kind of lose track of her.

      If Scotland really does leave, the name issue’s only going to get more confusing. I can hardly wait.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A new group of Congressional wack-a-doodles now have an “Anglo-Saxon” caucus. I fear this will mean a return to the Feudal System.


    Though the Congresspersons involved seem more like the Normans. Some further versions of the information mention buildings. Not sure about that. I found a photo of Earls Barton Church in Northamptonshire. I leave this to you to warn other Brits/Irish/Welsh/Scots/Manx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to doubt, but that’s so fucking unlikely I had to ask Lord G, and he tells me you didn’t invent that. Couldn’t have in your wildest nightmares, he said. Anglo-Saxon freedoms were widely fetishized in England, where people conveniently forgot Anglo-Saxon slavery.

      But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?

      I love the link.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, I used to write fiction but I don’t think even in my prime I could veer that far off beam (I did write some sci-fi) I’m glad you vetted my info, as your other readers would have just sailed on – unwarned !

        I did watch the obsequies for the Duke of E…it was in a way like going back to the Victorian era – or even earlier. For all our rebellion, many of us Americans are awed by the pomp and circumstance. But I confess that whenever they strike up “God Save the Queen” I sing along in my head with the words to “My Country ‘Tis of Thee…”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pedantic factoid: “Great Britain” was the brainchild of King James VI of Scotland, when he became King James I of England and proposed merging the two countries and their Parliaments. However, neither of the English nor Scottish Parliaments was as keen on being tidy-minded just to suit him, so the idea was quietly shelved.

    Until, that is, a later English Parliament decided it really didn’t want his Catholic grandson or his heirs anywhere near the throne any more, gave him the bum’s rush, changed the law so that a Protestant grand-daughter and heirs would get it, and then persuaded the Scottish Parliament into a merger to make sure they couldn’t decide otherwise. Then “Britain” became all the rage for quite a while, but eventually the English fell back into the habit (most of the time unless reminded) of thinking England was all that mattered.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: What people really want to know about Britain – sport

  8. I enjoyed this post so much, Ellen! I lol’d irl. I’m so enamored of all things British, love your excellent crime tv, love Monty Don. In doing geneology I traced a branch of my family to a man born in London in 1565 who then moved to Scotland, a later one in Scotland was a Conventer who got his head chopped off in Glasgow Square during the “Killing Time” in 1666, his son got the hell out of there and came to America in 1705 where his grandson fought in the American Revolution. Another branch originates in Nottingham. So I guess my lifelong interest in GB is in my blood.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, that’s one hell of a tale. I can understand taking a parent’s beheading as a sign that I should leave the country. It sounds like a smart move.

      I don’t have a single British relative (I haven’t traced my family, but to the relatives I know about all come from other countries), but the cultural influence is so pervasive that I have that same sense of connection–mixed on my part with enduring befuddlement.

      Liked by 1 person

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