Are you one of the vociferous minority insulted by the word expatriate?

Which word ticks your box?

Are you one of the vociferous minority insulted by the word expatriate?

THE world is full of armchair experts who delight in trying to correct others and the latest target for them is use of the word expatriate for someone who lives in another country.

Like many other words in English, it has Latin roots, uniting Ex (out of) and Patria (native country or fatherland).

There is little doubt that when one writes about a British expat or expatriate in Spain then the vast majority of English-speaking readers will immediately and correctly recognise who is being referred to and let’s face it, language is all about ease of understanding.

The naysayers, argue that the word is demeaning and racist because it was originally applied to white Europeans and their families who were often sent abroad to work in the Colonies for a defined length of time.

They go on to insist that those who are not white are disparagingly referred to as migrants or immigrants when they in fact have as much right to be called expats as anyone else living abroad.

It has to be admitted that there is certainly an element of truth in that protestation if it is intentionally used to disparage or insult another person, but many people understand who is being referred to when such words are used.

There is no doubt that the use and meaning of words change over time and perfect examples are both ‘sick’ meaning good and ‘gay’ referring to a sexual orientation.

When one refers to British expats, there is no way that it is race or gender specific as it purely refers to someone who was born in Britain and has moved to another country, in this case Spain, therefore to suggest that it is insulting is plainly nonsense, unless a specific person is identified.

All newspapers try to make any article as easily understandable as possible and therefore this writer for one will continue not to raid the dictionary for words that nobody understands and will use expatriate when it fits better than ‘UK passport holder now residing in Spain who may or may not eventually return to the fatherland’.

Naturally, if a reader is able to provide a word as an alternative which the majority of English speakers would immediately recognise as referring to British in Spain, then is something that the EWN writers would be happy to review seriously.

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Written by

David Arias


    • Sue Wilkinson

      15 April 2021 • 21:36

      Try British immigrant. It would be more pertinent as an ex pat,as you rightly say, was used to describe someone living in another country but generally for work purposes and on a temporary basis. If you plan to move to another country on a permanent basis you are an immigrant. Obviously you can change your mind and go “home” at any point but that does not change the facts.

    • Emma

      16 April 2021 • 19:14

      I have come across similar difficulties when trying to find a word to describe our status too and wrote about it in a blog post here:

      I think immigrant probably sums it up best too, but I personally don’t feel that everyone is ready to embrace that term and it does generally apply to long term moves. It would be great to come up with a new name, someone suggested repat to me recently, but not sure that quite cuts it either.


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