17 January 2020
When Brexiteers join ranks
with buccaneers, mutineers,
profiteers and racketeers
As I wrote last night about right-wing calls for church bells to ring or toll to mark Britain’s formal departure from the European Union at the end of the month, I wrestled with whether I should use the term ‘Brexiter’ or ‘Brexiteer.’
I guess we have all got used to the term ‘Brexit’ without it conveying a hint air of being either triumphalist or pejorative. Indeed, it is a pity that were no obvious alternatives for the ‘Remain’ position. ‘Bremain’ was never going to be as snappy or as chic – or chique.
And, as I think about it, I presume those who favoured Brexit are more inclined to say chic, while those who voted to remain might give the edge to chique.
As someone who worked as journalist for over 30 years as a journalist, I can imagine how many lengthy discussions took place in newsrooms and across sub-editors’ desks.
The dictionaries seem to come down in favour of Brexiteer rather than Brexiter as a term for ‘Someone who supports Brexit, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.’
Wiktionary favours ‘Brexiteer’ but gives ‘Brexiter’ as an alternative form. The Macmillan Dictionary favours ‘Brexiter’ while the Collins Dictionary favour ‘Brexiteer.’
As both forms are correct, I debated with myself which word I should use in my blog posting and with my captions last night.
So I turned to Dictionary.com, to see how it defines the suffix ‘-eer’.
It sees ‘-eer’ is a noun-forming suffix occurring originally in loanwords from French, such as buccaneer, mutineer and pioneer, and productive in the formation of English nouns denoting persons who produce, handle, or are otherwise significantly associated with the referent of the base word, as in auctioneer, engineer, mountaineer or pamphleteer.
But it adds that the choice of this suffix is ‘now frequently pejorative,’ and cites words such as ‘profiteer’ and ‘racketeer.’
Perhaps that note pointing out that words with ‘-eer’ are ‘now frequently pejorative’ was influencing me as I made my choice.
Would using ‘-eer’ rather than ‘-er’ be seen as an attempt my part to convey a negative judgment about that the people I was referring to?
Would my use of the word ‘Brexiteer’ not impartially describe ‘one who supports Brexits’ but also convey the idea that these Brexit politicians are in the same category as ‘buccaneers, ‘mutineers’ ‘profiteers’ and ‘racketeers’?
Would ‘Brexiter’ be more neutral, be less value-laden, as with words like voter, mover, shaker, or even remainer?
Perhaps it is still too soon to tell which of the two, Brexiter or Brexiteer, will become standard, or whether they may even reflect the divide between British-English and American-English usage.
At an early stage, it appeared that Brexiteer might be American English and Brexiter British English. Brexiteer appeared in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, while the Guardian was using Brexiter.
At one stage, the editorial staff on the Financial Times were told by the style guru, ‘The out campaigners should be Brexiters, not Brexiteers.’ It seems editors has a lengthy discussion about whether the word ‘Brexiteer’ had connotations of swashbuckling adventure.
But now the Guardian, as well as the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Spectator, prefer Brexiteer. The Irish Times prefers Brexiteer, the Economist appears to use Brexiteer but has also used Brexiter.
The Cambridge Dictionary prefers Brexiteer, only offering Brexiter as a second option. It defines a Brexiteer as ‘someone who is in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.’ It gives examples: ‘The prominent Brexiteer appealed to national pride, as he often did while campaigning for the “Leave” side ahead of the UK referendum’ and ‘Hardline Brexiters are unlikely to accept this new deal with the European Union.’
Similarly, the Oxford Dictionaries prefers Brexiteer with Brexiter as an alternative, for ‘a person who supports Brexit.’ Here too, two examples of usage are offered: ‘Brexiteers believe the UK can forge a new relationship with the EU’ and ‘The prominent Brexiter was heckled outside campaign headquarters.’
‘Brexiteer brings to mind buccaneer, pioneer, musketeer,’ Michael Gove once admitted. ‘It lends a sense of panache and romance to the argument.’ For his fellow Leave campaigner Daniel Hannan it had connotations of ‘dashing condottieri.’ It was far more dashing than ‘Eurosceptic,’ a word laden with negative connotations of prejudice, isolation and even xenophobia.
Indeed, the word Brexit can only be traced back to May 2012, when a pro-EU campaigner Peter Wilding reflected on the potential repercussions of the Greek crisis in his blog: ‘Unless a clear view is pushed that Britain must lead in Europe … then the portmanteau for Greek euro exit might be followed by another sad word, Brexit.’
At first, Dominic Cummings did not like the phrase ‘Brexit,’ believing it was the kind of newspaper word no ordinary person would ever use. But then he is truly not the person to listen to ordinary people, despite his claims.
By early 2016, the words Brexit, Brexiter and Brexiteer were appearing regularly in newspaper headlines, and soon the three arch-Brexiteers were Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox.
The Remain strategist Lord Cooper feared the word Brexit crystallised a feeling about the Out campaign. ‘It helped draw it out. It was exciting, invigorating, boundary-pushing, taking on the world … a positive frame that was taking on our negative frame.’
By contrast, the Remain campaign could find no collective noun to embrace. Their opponents took delight in goading them as Bremainers, Remoaners and Remainians. But the word Remainer reeked of timidity, defending the status quo, even of the cold leftovers from last night’s dinner.
No-one has offered a referendum to choose between Brexiteer and Brexiter; the people have not spoken.
But when it came to deciding last night which word to choose – Brexiteer or Brexiter – the Cambridge Dictionary won the day. I might be accused of prejudice, preferring a word with pejorative connotations that invoke ‘buccaneers, ‘mutineers’ ‘profiteer’ and ‘racketeers,’ and so I opted for the Cambridge Dictionary, ignoring its reference to invocations of ‘national pride’ and its examples of the ‘Hardline.’