When I picked up this book and flicked through it, I presumed it was a study of the differences between British and American interpretations of common words. It is, but it is a lot more than that. The author, Erin Moore, is an American, but she has had a close association with British speakers through her work as an editor and through her marriage into an English family.
The book comprises about thirty chapters - each headed with a single word, and that word is then discussed in detail and the different interpretations from either side of the Atlantic explored. The chapters have titles such as “Quite”, “Sorry”, ”Clever”, “Brolly”, “Toilet”, “Proper”, “Shall” and “Tea”.
Erin Moore moved to England and raised a family there while having regular visits back to the United States. She expected to be completely at ease with the language in England, but found there were more and more differences in understanding and meaning. She looks at many of these examples in detail.
In “Cheers” she discusses how the word has become commonplace in Britain, used by all classes, and can mean a toast (when drinking), good-bye, or thank you. She explains that the Americans know ‘cheers’ as a toast but struggle to interpret other meanings. If they use it, they tend to over-pronounce it. In this chapter, she discusses the place of the British pub and compares that with the drinking attitudes in America.
The small chapter “Toilet” is typical. Both the British and Americans seem to have difficulty in discussing this subject. In Britain you can ask ‘where is the loo?’ at a restaurant, but this would never do in America. They would prefer “bathroom” or “restroom”, but even this might be a bit strong and so they would ask for the “powder room.”
If you enjoy words and their derivations and meanings, and care to explore the differences in understanding of two different but similar cultures, then this is an ideal book for you. The writing is light and easy to read, it keeps your interest and you can pick and choose chapters as you like. You could say the book is quite remarkable – but of course ‘quite’ can mean entirely different things depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on.
Title: That's not English
Author: Erin Moore
Recommended by Ana, Central Library
Ana enjoys reading and listening to music, travelling and many other things. She reads fiction, non-fiction and from genres, crime: the Scandinavian crime writers, Patricia Highsmith and some others.