A Soccer Linguistics Lesson: England Vs. Britain

On Monday, we made a World Cup error: We referred to the English soccer team as the British soccer team. To correct that error, Melissa Block speaks with an Englishman who is also a football fanatic — our executive producer, Christopher Turpin.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And we end this hour by eating some crow.

Yesterday, I spoke with L.A. Times reporter Kevin Baxter about the controversial Jabulani, the official ball of the 2010 World Cup. Players are complaining that this particular kind of soccer ball is unpredictable and is affecting play.

Well, in that conversation, I referred to goalie Robert Green as the British goalkeeper and that sparked an angry email from a listener who reminded us that, quote, "It is the English soccer team, not the British soccer team."

In fact, that email came from our executive producer Christopher Turpin who, as an Englishman and a football fanatic, took particular offense.

And, Chris, you're here to read me the Riot Act, right?

CHRISTOPHER TURPIN: Yes, Melissa. Six of the best for you. I can't believe - you're usually such a stickler for these kind of things. I just can't believe you got this one wrong.

As you should know, Britain is composed of England, Wales and Scotland. Throw in Northern Ireland and you have the United Kingdom. All of those countries compete internationally, individually, in soccer. So there's an England team, a Scotland team. There's a Welsh team and a Northern Irish team. As an Englishman, I have a little fruition(ph) of nationalistic pride that the English were the only of the British teams that actually qualified for...

BLOCK: In the World Cup, yes.

TURPIN: ...the 2010 World Cup. It's also - it's why you see English fans carrying a white flag with a red cross, not the Union Jack. It's the English flag. It's the cross of St. George, part of which makes up the Union Jack.

BLOCK: Well, let's think ahead, Chris. Friday, you have England, not Britain, England playing Algeria in the World Cup. If I were to go to, say, Scotland, to a bar, which sounds great, who would they be rooting for in that bar?

TURPIN: Well, I've actually been in a bar in Scotland during an England game and I can tell you there were not many people there rooting for England.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TURPIN: I think you'll find that some of the most rowdy Algerian fans will be sitting in the bars of Scotland. There are lots of Brits who love to root against England during the World Cup and at any other sporting events.

BLOCK: Chris, thanks for setting us straight, as you always do, on all things British.

TURPIN: Happy to do so.

BLOCK: That's our executive producer and resident Brit, or Englishman, Christopher Turpin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THREE LIONS")

TURPIN: (Singing) And Nobby dancing. Three lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming, 30 years of hurt...

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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