Why is United Kingdom singular, whereas United States is plural?  Most countries unite in the plural – the United Nations, the United Arab Emirates, the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to name a few – for the obvious reason that it takes more than one to form a union.  Sometimes, there is no alternative: the United State or the United Nation would have meant something else, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic wouldn’t have made any sense at all.  Likewise Union of South Africa, the British

colonial name used from 1910 until South Africa became a republic in 1961, was a less peculiar option than a union of ‘South Africas’. You don’t want a name that raises more questions than it answers, ‘Popular Front’, ‘Democratic Republic’ etc. Sometimes it seems that it might have been possible to use either the singular or plural form, and a choice was made.  In the late 1950s there was the United Arab Republic, a union between Syria and Egypt that only lasted three years and was dominated by the will of Egypt’s President Nasser.  Its Arabic form is الجمهورية العربية المتحدة‎.  Google Translate assures me that’s a singular ‘republic’ and perhaps Nasser preferred it that way (ironically, after Syria quit, the United Republic continued for another ten years with Egypt its sole member).

In the British case the kingdoms that were united were: a) Scotland, and b) England-and-Wales, Wales being a principality that hadn’t had its own king since the Norman conquest (I’m not sure where Ireland came into this).  The union was made law by the Scottish and English parliaments in their 1707 Acts of Union.  I’m no historian, and I haven’t researched it, but I expect the unification into one kingdom was a way of reconciling the fact that both countries had been using the same monarch for about a century: since James VI of Scotland, grandson of Henry VIII, became James I of England.  Now the Scots are preparing for a referendum on independence, and thinking about applying for membership of Scandinavia.  Is this nitpicking important?  Probably not compared to taxation and the profits from North Sea oil, which seem to be the nationalists’ main justifications for voting Scotland independent.  But it is quite fun, in the same way that British republicanism is fun (I think).  How you see the S may depend on your attitude to change. The Scots may want to discuss with the English whether the final S might become part of a compromise.  That unequal Scandinavian relationship that ended in 1905, almost exactly two hundred years after the Acts of British union, was at least known as the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway.

There’s no relation between the photographs and the text here.  I don’t quite see why there ought to be.  We might drink orange juice while we discuss art, without anyone complaining.  Rather than merely illustrating a verbal argument, can’t pictures be a a counterpoint or contrast – perhaps even a relief?

Update:  From the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century lots of new words came into English, and during that time England was ruled by Mary I,  Elizabeth I, Mary II and  Anne I,  for a total of roughly sixty years. Since 1952, Britain has had a queen for its monarch, adding another 60 years to the total.  Why has England never been called a Queendom?  Does such a word exist in other languages?

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