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Cool Britannia

Pronounced /kuːl brɪˈtænɪə/Help with pronunciation

When I first wrote about this catchphrase, in March 1997, I said — with more than a hint of hope — that it promised to be temporary. Alas no, it is now (March 1998) everywhere in the British press. The Economist wrote on 14 March that “Many people are already sick of the phrase”. It started to appear in the British press near the end of 1996, shortly after Newsweek declared London to be the coolest capital city on the planet. Most people who live in that scruffy and under-governed metropolis didn’t recognise this description, as a rush of sarcastic press comments testified. However, the press soon changed its mind and it has been taken up with enthusiasm. The phrase is an obvious pun on the title of the patriotic song Rule Britannia, so obvious that — though whoever re-invented it this time around is probably too young to know — it was the title of a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band back in 1967. The phrase refers to a fashionable London scene (the capital as so often taking its concerns to be typical of the nation) with a new generation of pop groups and style magazines, successful young fashion designers, and a surge of new restaurants. For a while after July 1996, the phrase was also a registered trade mark for one of Ben & Jerry’s ice-creams (vanilla with strawberries and chocolate-covered shortbread) designed for the British market, though this has now been withdrawn.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 29 Mar 1997; Last updated 05 Sep 1998