Reading about words is always an irresistible meta-pleasure for me, but Erin Moore’s book about the differences between British and American English adds another layer of fascination by exploring the cultural reasons behind the word use variations–why it is that two nations who share so much, including a common language, still can’t completely understand each other. I considered myself fairly fluent in “British”, I read lots of British novels and love to watch BBC shows, but almost every chapter taught me something I didn’t realize about the variations between the way everyday words are used on either side of the pond, and what the cultural implications of those differences are.
For me the word “quite” has always made whatever word it modifiers stronger–“quite pretty” means “very pretty” in my lexicon–but according to Moore adding “quite” to “pretty” in England qualifies “pretty” downward instead, so saying someone is “quite pretty” would be translated to something like the semi-insulting “fairly pretty” in Ameri-speak. Moore uses “quite” to go into amusing and enlightening detail about the well-noted difference between the way Americans tend to express themselves with a lot of enthusiasm, whereas the British are more inclined to understatement.
That’s Not English has thirty-some short, entertaining, and informative chapters, each focused on the varied uses or non-uses of one word (including some words I’d never heard of–mufti?), and what those differences of language indicate about the culture and mindset of the two nations. Moore is an American who married into a British family, so she’s learned the differences between the two versions of English firsthand.
I read a free advanced review copy of this book supplied to me by the publisher through the website LibaryThing. Review opinions are mine.