Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Language Barrier Part 4: Quite a Misunderstanding

   When I was just visiting America as a tourist, I never realised there was a language barrier. Perhaps that was because I was a tourist and went to the sort of places where they're used to talking to tourists, like Manhattan or Washington DC.  Oh yes, I knew all about sidewalk (pavement) and candy (sweets)  and even purse (handbag). Conversely, hubby, having long been an Anglophile and a frequent traveller to Britain, likes to say "tomahto" and "chap" and so on.  But there are subtleties, the depth of which neither of us could ever begin to imagine.
  Take the seemingly innocuous word "quite".  Once, in the early days I slaved over a meal for hubby, which he pronounced "quite good".  Now, you British girls, what would you say to that?  Sulk? Shout? Call the divorce lawyer?  Well perhaps not the last but it would come pretty close.  "What", I asked calmly, "do you mean, 'quite good'?"
 Hubby looked perplexed.
"Quite good", I explained between gritted teeth, "in Britain is not a complement. It means something is mediocre, so-so, possibly even awful and you're trying to find something nice to say about it. Like the curate and his egg you know?"
  "But I liked it! It was, it was wonderful!" Poor man. I could tell he meant it.
  So. That is what "quite good" means in American. It means wonderful. Now you know. And should you be thinking of embarking on a transatlantic marriage, consider yourself warned.

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