Friday, July 31, 2015

… and Northern Ireland, Sir!

The title of this post is a phrase that comes to mind every time I consider the question of what exactly is meant by the terms England, Great Britain, and the UK. That shortest of monikers is an abbreviation, of course, for United Kingdom. But that in turn is shorthand for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But if you took geography with Norman (Stormin’ Norman) Little at North Kansas City High School in the 1970s, the word “Sir!” was added, as it was to all place names during recitations.
Yes, we had recitations as the main form of learning geography – in a room full of maps, half standard and half without any labels – we spent almost every class session in oral-quiz mode. If we failed to answer correctly – or if we failed to end with “Sir!” – the response would be “Young man (or lady) … that will be five points off your next examination!”
This approach to teaching geography had two results, one surprising and one to be expected. The surprise is that most students were fond of Mr. Little. They had actually painted “Stormin’ Norman” to give him an unofficial reserved parking space for his beloved Ford Pinto. He was “old school” with an official one-room schoolhouse on his resume, so I think we all just thought of him as quaint in a way that younger teachers could not have been.
The unsurprising result is that I finished high school with a geography course under my belt, and no idea that it was an actual academic discipline. We spent less than a day on any real geographic questions, so I never even looked at geography as an option when I started college.
But I digress. The real point here is to learn a bit more about the country, nation, state, and island we sometimes just call “the Brits.” Fortunately, we have the help of CGP Grey, who provides a lovely romp through this thicket of nomenclature.

And we don’t have to call him “Sir.”

NOTE: This is actually the third time I've mentioned this video. For some different contexts, see Queen Lisa? (2012) and Borderlines (2013).

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