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The term "Britain and Ireland" can't possibly include the Isle of Man, which is neither part of Britain nor part of Ireland. Ditto for the Channel Isles. --Zundark, 2001 Nov 16
I agree there is a problem. In 99% of the uses of "British Isles" the term is used to mean "Britain and Ireland", but there are a few cases where it explicitly is used to mean the general collection of islands off North-Western Europe that historically was politically controlled by Britain. I do not know of an alternate succinct expression for that collection of islands that does not give the misleading impression that Ireland is British. Any suggestions. --Eob

The term "Britain and Ireland" is unclear and best avoided in almost any context. If what is meant is the British Isles, then the correct term is "British Isles" (and the British Isles article should make it clear that this doesn't imply Ireland is British). If what is meant is merely the two largest islands of the British Isles, then "Great Britain and Ireland" is better than "Britain and Ireland". If what is meant is the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, then "United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland" is obviously clearest (although a bit long-winded). --Zundark, 2001 Nov 16

Sorry but if we want to use a NPOV I do not think it is acceptable to use the term "British Isles" except in an historical context. The situation is not simple because political and geographical terminology is mixed, and unfortunately that means that it is hard to come up with a acceptable concise name for the collection of islands off Europe that have historically been controlled by Britain. The use of "British Isles" is similar to the habit of some people to refer to "Britain" as "England", much to the annoyance of the Scots and Welsh.

Referring to Britain as "England" is just wrong, as is claiming that Britain and Ireland includes the Isle of Man. By contrast, the term "British Isles" is the normal term for the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and the smaller islands around them. Since "British Isles" is the term that is used, it's the term we should use - this is an encyclopedia, we're not supposed to make up our own terms. NPOV doesn't come into it, since no point of view is being expressed. --Zundark, 2001 Nov 16
Zundar, just because a term has been used in the past does not mean it should be used in the present when its offensiveness to some has become apparent. Other examples of usage that is no longer acceptable are: "girl" to describe a woman in the United States, "Eskimo" to describe the Inuit, "Lapp" to describe the Saami, "oriental" to describe East Asians in the United States. Just because British people were happy to use the term "British Isles" and to foster its use elsewhere does not mean we keep on using the term in this somewhat more enlightened age. How would you feel if that arhipelago was called the "Irish Isles"?

This is a hard issue. I'd say that the neutral point of view does enter into it, simply because a lot of people take umbrage at the use of the term "British Isles." Many Irish people and the Irish diaspora dislike it and would construe its constant use as generating a subtext to the effect that Irish is or ought to be British. Of course, British people think this is ridiculous, and they take umbrage at not using the perfectly precise term "British Isles." There is a somewhat similar dispute in that some people are taken aback by the use of "American" for United States citizen, when some other people think it ought to be used in English to mean The Americas--and when many Americans would be somewhat offended at our not using "Americans" to describe them. What's to be done? In both cases, I'd say, it's not that the potentially offending term shouldn't be used at all, but that we should do our best to be sensitive in various ways to the views of people who partake in the dispute. One very imperfect compromise would be to use the term, and then add disclaimer such as, "This term includes Ireland but of course should not be construed as meaning that Ireland is or ought to be British." Another compromise is to qualify the phrase: "the so-called British Isles, which includes Ireland and Britain." Maybe the best compromise is just to vary the usage, so that sometimes (even within the same article) we sometimes use "Britain and Ireland (and surrounding islands)" and sometimes "British Isles." This is similar to our sometimes using "American" and sometimes "of the United States" or "U.S. citizen." There is no perfect solution, but what's important is that we do our best not to convey a controversial view. We should be firmly wishy-washy on this sort of issue. :-) --LMS
Thanks Larry. How about this proposal: We use "Britain and Ireland" where we mean just those two islands. We use "British Isles" where we mean the entire archipelago in a geographical context but that we put some sort of qualification such as you suggest. --Eob

I don't see the point of the qualifier - that belongs in the article on the British Isles, not elsewhere. When we mention the Irish Sea, do we have to add a qualifier pointing out that Ireland doesn't own it? Does every mention of the Indian Ocean have to be accompanied by a statement that the ocean doesn't belong to India? --Zundark, 2001 Nov 16
The point of the qualifier is that otherwise you will cause offensive to some. The comparison with bodies of ocean is not valid because historically countries did not "own" any part of the ocean beyond a very narrow territorial limit, so there was no implication of ownership. However with land there is such an implication: the Greek Islands, French Guiana, the Russian Steppes. Note for example how the "British Commonwealth" was renamed The Commonwealth. The "British" in "British Isles" implies that Ireland is British. Many people around the world are confused on this matter so I do not think we can rely on a qualifier buried in a link to make it clear. --Eob

On a personal note it is rather ironic that I am arguing this point because although I am Irish my politics are pretty anti-nationalistic, and I recognize that Ireland has to thank Britain for its inheritance of democracy and law. However it irks me a little when my Irish identity is obscured in this phrase "British Isles". I think I feel similarly to the Scots and Welsh when their countries are referred to as being part of England. --Eob

Derek's added some text that "British Isles" is misleading not only because of Ireland but also because of the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles. I wonder, even though the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles are not technically part of Britain do inhabitants of those islands generally object to being called "British"? In particular do they, like many Irish, object to being considered part of the "British Isles"? I have no idea but I would guess that because of their closer political association with Britain they would object less than the Irish. Anyone know for sure? --Eob

I don't know for sure whether they object or not. If they don't perhaps they should! It just seemed logical that if it was true for Ireland, it would also be true for Man, Jersey, etc. Perhaps I'm being too tidy-minded -- Derek Ross

I just added "British Isles" back to the article on "North Atlatic drift" and I wanted to apologize here to anyone who might be offended. However, the original article said "west of the British Isles", and it was changed to "west of Ireland" with the explanation that Ireland is west of Britain. The problem with this is that in the context the phrase "west of" has implications regarding latitude as well as longitude. Since Ireland and Britain do not have the same extent in latitude, the substitution changes the meaning. Unfortunately, the term "British Isles" is the accepted geographic term for the island group, and there really is no suitable alternative. -HWR
I agree that British Isles is an unfortunate name, and it is understandable why many Irish dislike it. I also agree that Britain and Ireland aren't suitable because they don't include the Isle of Man, etc. If British Isles is okay, surely Irish Isles is okay as well? The Irish have for so many centuries been subjugated, its time for some revenge! Or more seriously, what about British and Irish Isles. It doesn't imply that Ireland is British, and it also recognizes that there is more to the Isles than Great Britain and Ireland.

I also don't think the Channel Islands should be counted geographically. Certaintly they are part politically, but geographically they belong to France, not the archipelago. On the other hand, maybe the British Isles are British in the sense of being off the coast of Brittany? In which case might the Channel Isles might be British as well? (Are they off the coast of Brittany? My European geography isn't that good.) -- SJK

The Channel Isles are closer to Normandy than to Brittany. In some languages I think they are actually called the Normandy Isles. I added a note to the British Isles article yesterday to make it clear that geographically they don't belong (and someone has since made it more emphatic). One could also argue that the Shetland Isles don't belong, or that if they do then so do the Faroes. --Zundark, 2001 Nov 17

Geographical terms are often determined by historical usage and not necessarily geographic logic (e.g. the distinction between Europe and Asia), but I believe that the exclusion of the Faroes might also be justified by the submarine topography. -HWR

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Last edited November 18, 2001 2:24 am by Hank Ramsey (diff)