Is there ever a use for the term “British Isles”?

In this Blog I have made my dislike of the term “British Isles” patent. I have discussed before about the ambiguous nature of this term, and particularly how it used inaccurately by the BBC. Here I will discuss its use by the British Government, and alternatives used for this term by them, in legal documentation.

The term “British Isles” is ambiguous. Not just the use of it by the BBC, but its use by many companies and institutions. For example, when the British Government use the term, you can pick up from the context that they do not refer to Ireland. As, on occasion where they wish to extend something to include Ireland, they explicitly state the “British Isles and Ireland”. The British Government, therefore, are instead referring to the UK, Isle of Man and Channel Islands as the “British Isles”. This definition is somewhat less objectionable, but still ambiguous when used.

There is, however, a legally defined term defined by the British Government for the UK, channel Islands and the Isle of Man, in the aptly named “Interpretation Act 1978, CHAPTER  30”, which defines the “British Islands” as: “..the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.  [1889]”. Now that term is way better, because (1) it is well defined and (2) it does not suffer from the linguistic difficulties that the term “British Isles” does i.e. implying that Ireland is somehow “British”.

Map of the British Islands

Map of the British Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Therefore, you can avoid all ambiguity by referring to Ireland and the British Islands or vice versa if you need to.

May I also suggest that the British Government consistently use the term. Instead of increasingly using the term “British Isles” as a synonym for the British Islands.


4 thoughts on “Is there ever a use for the term “British Isles”?

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