Language Log likes to point out President Bush’s verbal mistakes, likely for the same reason that news outlets have been rabidly piling onto the recent Cheney quail hunting accident. However, sometimes something interesting comes out, like this piece from my hero Mark Liberman:
In this case, I’d like to point out that our president has put his finger on a real problem. In the first place, the British Isles have got the most confusing nomenclature around. There are at least 15 names of major overlapping political and geographical entities here, ignoring all the counties and bailiwicks and islands and the like. But the real problem is the endemic shortage of adjectives. Of the 15 names, 8 have no adjectival form, as far as I can tell. One (Scotland) has three different adjectival forms: Scots for the language and (mostly) the people; Scotch for the local distilled liquor; Scottish for everything else, more or less. There are four other (ambiguous) adjectives, all irregular formations with -ish or similar endings: British, English, Irish, Welsh. But the large-scale formal political entities centered in London — United Kingdom, Great Britain — are entirely bereft of corresponding adjectives, except for the jokey UKish and the irregular, ambiguous and confusing pair British and Britannic.
Check out the crazy table included below this paragraph in the post, and the helpful Venn diagram from the Wikipedia.
Dude, I am all about crazy tables and Venn diagrams.
Plus, Liberman is teh funnay.
But over the past few centuries, the English have been creating a bewildering agglomeration of half-digested acquisitions and new organizational initiatives — a sort of political Enron — while completely neglecting their duty to supply these entities with adjectives. The NGOs are nowhere to be seen; U.S. unilateralism is out of style, so an adjectival Marshall Plan is not in the cards; this is clearly a case for U.N. intervention.