06 October 2006
Goodbye British Isles, Hello Northwest European Archipelago?
Irish publisher Folens intends to produce a "more correct" version of its school atlas which will omit all references to the "British Isles".
Following a complaint by a parent to the Irish Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, her private secretary issued a letter on her behalf recommending that the aggrieved parent bring the matter to the geography teacher in question and to the publisher. It looks as is the parent took issue with the teacher and the teacher took issue with the publisher The upshot is that Folens is deleting all references to the British Isles from its school atlases from 2007.
In my view it is no big deal to lose the "British Isles” but the expression refers to those who lived on the islands in pre-Roman times (or the Pretani as they were described by the Greek traveller Pytheas). It was first used in English as a geographical term by Peter Heylin in 1621 in a collection of lectures called the Microcosmus: a little description of the great world.
The problem of course is that the main modern meaning of the word British is "of Great Britain or of the United Kingdom or its people". As a result the terms “British Isles” can be misinterpreted to show that the Irish Republic is part of the UK - even though the expression as we can see is not intended to convey any such meaning.
There is no widely accepted alternative to the British Isles although all of the following have been used in recent years:
The Islands or These Islands
IONA – the Islands of the North Atlantic
The Northwest European Archipelago.
The West European Isles
ISLANDS OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC? Give me strength!! I am sure we inhabitants could come up with something better than those ugly expressions… These Sceptered Isles?. The Bejewelled Isles? Hmm it’s not that easy… Anyone got a better idea?