23rd May 2024

The ‘limeys’ who conquered the world



The word ‘limey’ refers to a British person, in general, and a British sailor, in particular. It originated in the 19th century and was  a derogatory name for sailors in the Royal Navy.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, British sailors who were at sea for more than a month often suffered from scurvy. Dr James Lind, a Scottish physician, conducted a medical trial and discovered that the soldiers needed Vitamin C in their diets. With only fresh fruits and vegetables for their diet, in the beginning of the voyage, the sailors grew deficient of Vitamin C and developed scurvy. Dr Lind recommended the intake of lemon juice for sailors, who had been at sea for longer than a month. Eventually, lime juice replaced lemon juice. As British sailors developed the habit of consuming lime juice, they came to be known as ‘limeys’.

By the second half of the 19th century, the word ‘limey’ also became the other name for British immigrants who settled in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In American English, the word is used to denote all British Nationals. In fact, American newspaper headlines made regular use of the word during the 20th century.

The consumption of lemon or lime juice on a daily basis made British sailors the healthiest and perhaps helped them conquer the world.

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