Were we wrong when we dealt with the Celts?

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Claire Hoang writes:

I just wanted to check something on the QI book?  There's was a fact about
the fact that 'Celtic' is not a real race/ethnic group linked...and that it
all came about because of a similarity in some accents being the same...

but then in another part of the book, it says that the word 'Scoti' came
from  a 'Celtic' group from Ireland?

So are there a group of celts or not?!


An Elf responds:

Although the two statements about Celts look contradictory they aren't. There is a distinction between culture and ethnicity: the Scoti were a 'Celtic' tribe because that's the general term we use to describe the culture they belonged to.  What we say elsewhere -and which is supported by the genetic evidence - is that the people whose culture we now call Celtic, weren't all one race, and nor did they ever refer to themselves as Celts.  

The word "Celt" has a lot more to do with 18th and 19th century Romanticism than ancient British history; it was first used by Greeks in the 4th century BC to mean northern European barbarians generally and though Julius Caesar applied the term to Gauls (but not to the British) no classical author refers to the Britons as "Celts".

But that doesn't mean we can't - it only means we must be wary of treating 'Celt' or 'Celtic' as a separate, genetically homogenous race or 'tribe'.

Quibble Quashed - unless you know better, please comment below...

Sources: EBR, OED, The Tribes of Britain - David Miles

Do you have a bone to pick with QI?  E-mail us here: elves@qi.com

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2 Comments

Actually I have a minor quibble with the entry on "Celt" being specified as being the reason for Nationalism.

Being of Celtic cultural background has about as much to do with Irish/Scottish/Welsh Nationalism as being of Germanic (or Nordic) origin has to do with why the English don't get on with the French.

If one looks further back in history there are examples of revolts from the people and there remains a cultural difference that is almost enforced by the English state by the way the people are governed, taxed and segregated (case in point the Bye-Law in Chester that allows that a Welshman found within the City Walls after curfew may be slain by bow and arrow).

The confluence of the English and "Celtic" nations had more to do with economic reasons and the industrial revolution than with the fact they used to be friendlier than they are today. Nothing could be further from the truth. The English simply lost their power over the provinces and their ability to enforce news blackouts on events there.

A different quibble -- sorry if it is misplaced. Your First Book of General Ignorance states that no chameleons change colour to match their surroundings. Many websites list sub-types of chameleons, one or more of which do just this. Smith's Dwarf Chameleon is one such. Other sub-types change colours for other reasons, many to match their moods, others because of the temperature, and so on. Maybe this has been corrected already for the BGI? If not, maybe it should be?
Not yet red in the face
Tom Priestly

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This page contains a single entry by eggshaped published on January 22, 2009 4:21 PM.

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