Yesterday people in Scotland voted on whether their country should remain in the United Kingdom or become an independent nation. Most Americans are more than a little confused about the terminology used to describe the relationships between our friends across the pond in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Of course, as this essay on the BBC website points out, folks in the United Kingdom are sometimes confused about this too:
[Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College London, says,] “The ‘United Kingdom’ is shorthand for the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.”
It’s a common misunderstanding in the US. The New York Times angered many Scots when it marked Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph with a tweet that said: “After 77 years, Murray and England rule”
But before Brits get too sniffy about this equation between Britain and England, we should acknowledge it’s a pretty complicated business and the English are sometimes guilty of the same mistake. A common error is for the British themselves to forget about Northern Ireland by referring to “Great Britain”, which is an island, when really they mean the United Kingdom. (The Northern Irish are “British” without being part of Great Britain.)
And remember that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are British, but not part of the UK.
Head hurting yet?
What I think we can all agree about on both sides of the Atlantic is that the national flag of the United Kingdom — the Union Jack — is pretty cool. It combines symbols that represent England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Yes, I know, Wales also belongs to the United Kingdom but has never been represented on that flag. I have no explanation for that glaring omission. But I do feel confident explaining that, since the Scots have decided to stay in the UK, the Union Jack remains whole too.
So let’s write haiku about flags this week — the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, the Lone Star Flag, etc. Just create a one-verse poem with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Here’s mine, which refers to the main street in Colonial Williamsburg, affectionately known as “DOG” Street by the locals, and which runs from the College of William & Mary to the Capitol, with Bruton Parish Church at the midpoint:
Duke of Gloucester Street
in Williamsburg, Virginia,
hails the Union Jack!
(Those counting an extra syllable in the first line should note that “Gloucester” is pronounced “Gloster.”)