Britain has always had a turbulent relationship when it comes to Europe, being so close, but, in many ways, being starkly different. Indeed, Britain’s first 2 applications to join the progenitor of the European Union, the European Economic Community, in 1963 and 1967 were vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle who stated that: “a number of aspects of Britain’s economy, from working practices to agriculture …. made Britain incompatible with Europe.” Later this month, the potential behind today’s word may allow us to see how right de Gaulle was.
With the EU referendum taking place this Thursday, 23rd June, virtually everyone has become familiar with the term Brexit by now – we know what it stands for and what it means, but where does it come from? Brexit is a portmanteau of the concept of the “British exit” from the EU. While blending words is nothing new – Lewis Carroll invented the phrase portmanteau in his 1871 work, Through the Looking-Glass – and Britain has always had a certain degree of scepticism for the EU, the term itself originated as another, slightly earlier European problem: Grexit.
With our word being less than 5 years old, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the specific origin. Taking a cue from the use of the term Grexit in an informal paper by Citigroup’s economist from February 2012, the first formal usage of the term appears in the Bagehot’s notebook section of The Economist, dated 21 June, 2012: “The chances of Britain leaving the EU in the next few years are higher than they have ever been. A Brixit looms for several reasons.” Informally (and in its more now-prevalent spelling), the word first appears in a Tweet that was sent on 15 May in the same year by a think tank called British Influence, stating: “Stumbling towards the Brexit – Britain, a referendum and an ever-closer reckoning.”
As we can see, the English language with its creativity and varied usage can adapt itself to any expression and any situation, whether Britain and the EU can do this as well, is yet another matter.