a. Of or relating to Great Britain or its people, language, or culture.
b. Of or relating to the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth of Nations.
2. Of or relating to the ancient Britons.
1. (used with a pl. verb) The people of Great Britain.
2. British English.
3. The Celtic language of the ancient Britons.
[Middle English Brittish, from Old English Bryttisc, relating to the ancient Britons, from Bryttas, Britons, of Celtic origin.]
Usage Note: Almost everyone in the British Isles speaks a dialect of English—a legacy of England's historic dominance over the region. Perhaps that is why many Americans treat British and English as if they were synonyms. But such a usage belies the political and cultural diversity of the British Isles, which contain two main islands and a number of smaller ones. The islands are home to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to the Republic of Ireland, and to several smaller political entities such as the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey. How people refer to themselves in this complex situation often depends on their political outlook. The people of Wales and Scotland, for example, are not English; they may call themselves British in the context of their citizenship in the United Kingdom, or they may call themselves Welsh or Scottish in contexts that emphasize their distinct cultural identity. Similarly, residents of England can be called either British or English. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland are neither British nor English, and in fact many of them avoid using the term British Isles itself, regarding it as fundamentally colonialist. In Northern Ireland, the term Irish is preferred by those who favor independence from the United Kingdom, while British is often preferred by those who support continued union with the UK—but many residents consider themselves both Irish and British. In this dictionary, biographical entries use the terms English and Scottish to describe people who were born in England or Scotland before the year 1707, when the two kingdoms were formally united by acts of both countries' parliaments. We use British to describe English and Scottish people born after 1707. (We use the same year as a cutoff for the term Welsh, though Wales was officially annexed by England in the 16th century.) With a few exceptions, we describe those born in Ireland as Irish, regardless of whether they were born under British rule.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.