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United Kingdom English for the American Novice

Terry Gliedt, who grew up in Iowa and Wisconsin, worked for IBM for many years and works now with the University of Michigan. He spent some years of his professional life in the UK, from 1981 to 1983. He seems to have encountered a few awkward situations when his (American) vocabulary turned out to be partially incompatible with what his British partners said – or meant:

The items in this dictionary were collected while I lived in the United Kingdom. While there I learned that the “English” and “American” languages have less in common than might be supposed. New words can be confusing and their meaning may be lost to you. More troublesome is a word which has a completely different meaning in each language. The problem is that you think you understand.

There are several hundred entries in his “English to American Dictionary”, divided into eight sub-pages, and I for one enjoyed browsing through the lemmas and examples (“this edition has 619 items which define 800 terms”). Although he warns us readers that some parts may be outdated and that some explanations may not be perfectly accurate, his ‘dictionary’ seems to be very readable – and useful – to me.
Among other things, he provides a list of 21 terms from Cockney Rhyming Slang; for example on unemployment:

ROCK AND ROLL (= dole) n. Welfare, as in, “The old man’s on the ROCK AND ROLL again”.

I also like such entries as the following, where he explicitly says what is different in American English, and pokes some fun at British pronunciation, too:

QUITE adv. 1. QUITE may be used in much the same manner as an American would expect. However, the English also use QUITE to mean utterly, absolutely, or completely. When an American says “It’s quite dark,” he means that it is almost, but not completely, dark. For this purpose, an Englishman would say “It’s RATHER dark, isn’t it?” (pronounced “izzen tit”). If it were QUITE dark, an American would say “It’s pitch black”.

What I’m not quite sure about, however, is whether Terry Gliedt really grasped the concept of understatement. This is what he says about “Quite pleased”:

QUITE PLEASED phrase. 1. In some circles this could mean “rather mediocre”. A Brit might not be particularly pleased with you if you announce you are QUITE PLEASED with something.

I *think* – please correct me if I’m wrong – that “quite pleased” is the expression to use if you talk about things that either belong to you or that you associate yourself with, like your own workplace, room, product and so on; another way of putting it might be: “Well, yes, it’s not too bad, we think” (meaning really: “We are immensely proud”).
On the other hand, as soon as other people talk about your product, especially if they are foreigners with no sense of humour, lacking the experience of spending their life in an understatement-saturated environment, then British people don’t expect understatement from them, but the literal truth, maybe embellished with a few hyperbolic additions *g*

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