Wednesday, 9 January 2013

An Erosion of Biscuitness

Amid the ongoing ructions anent flag-flying, it's easy to forget that differences between Northern Ireland's two communities find their most frequent expression not in such abstract symbols but in personal linguistic choices within English, the two most cited examples perhaps being Derry/Londonderry (albeit exaggerated) and the various names for the polity itself. While "Northern Ireland" is considered fairly neutral, and "the province" may be most popular among politicians from Great Britain, Nationalists often speak of "the north of Ireland" (note the lower case), Republicans of "the Six Counties", sometimes cheekily (or, indeed, humourlessly) adding the adjective "occupied", and many Unionists simply of "Ulster" or "the country". Such differences put broadcasters in something of a bind. Where no accepted "neutral" term exists, as with Derry/Londonderry, strict rules must be applied. For that reason, the BBC stipulates that the first mention of the Maiden City in each report is "Londonderry" and all subsequent mentions "Derry".

Indeed, these dichotomies extend even to the culinary field, since what in Great Britain are called "Empire biscuits" are in Northern Ireland known as "German biscuits". It transpires that the latter is an older term for the popular comestibles, which have their ultimate origin in the Teutonic Spitzbuben. At some point during the First World War they were re-christened in a move reminiscent of, but more enduring than, the "freedom fries" beloved of American neo-cons.

Though the exact reasons why supermarkets have a different name for the product in Northern Ireland are matters of conjecture, it is a fairly safe bet to assume that it's because it was felt that the biscuits might, metaphorically speaking, stick in the craws of many Nationalists otherwise.

The moral of the story is simple. Stop protesting outside City Hall and get stuck into Tesco (in a democratic and peaceful manner, of course).

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