The English have a word for it
For he himself has said it,
And it’s greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!
For he might have been a Rossian,
A French, or Turk, or Prossian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!
Before I got distracted by W.S. Gilbert, I was puzzling over posts by my worthy colleagues at the Testy Copy Editors site. (Yes, dammit, we are testy. All of us. You got a problem with that?)
The post worried over a sentence from an article about the sinking last week of a Greek cruise ship: "'Navy divers searched around the sunken wreckage for a Frenchman and his daughter — the only two passengers still missing.'
"is Frenchman the preferred nomenclature here? shouldn't it just be French man? would you say Englishman or Scotsman?"
In fact, one of the successive comments endorsed French man, because Frenchman looked unfamiliar.
You can see the comments yourself:
These posts were baffling. Of course one uses Frenchman and Englishman, terms of long standing. Samuel Johnson, ever the vigorous nationalist, commented once, "A Frenchman must be always talking, whether he knows anything of the matter or not; an Englishman is content to say nothing when he has nothing to say."
Perhaps the original query rose from a concern that Frenchman might be seen as a sexist term. But in English, a man who is a native of France is called a Frenchman.
It can be startling to discover that terms one has thought of as familiar for years strike colleagues as strange or inappropriate or just wrong. Once, at a newspaper far, far away, the supervising editor one weekend questioned the word Briton in a headline; he had never seen it before.
The headline ran over an article about the Falklands War, about which we had been running articles for several days, and, yes, articles in which we had used Briton as a term for citizens of Great Britain.
You may recollect that George III, our late monarch, said on his accession to the throne, "I glory in the name of Briton." As a native-born monarch of a German dynasty, he was entitled to. And the term was not novel in 1760.
We persuaded the weekend editor to allow Briton to stand — he couldn’t think of any other word that would fit, and I briefly harbored the heretical surmise that not all editors are put in authority because of their intelligence and literacy.