Published March 24th 2015 by Gotham
Hardcover, 240 pages
Source: ARCs provided by publisher
I think it’s fair to say that I am something of an Anglophile. Amanda and I were fortunate in getting to visit London several times on family vacations growing up, and something about that city still feels a bit…magical to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the sheer age of some of the buildings boggles the mind of this Midwesterner, maybe it’s the palaces, maybe it’s my love of Henry VIII – regardless, England feels both familiar and foreign at the same time. I could happily wander London and not feel like a stranger, while at the same time, not lose my sense of wonder at the place. Speaking of which, I am probably due for a visit across the pond to visit my favorite Brit (that’s a test to see if you’re reading, Katie!).
Anyway, that sense of commonality while also being thousands of miles apart in space and in thought, is the premise of Erin Moore’s That’s Not English. Moore is an American ex-pat living in London and raising her daughter there. She takes 31 words that mean different things (or nothing) in American English and British English, and uses each word as a starting point to highlight historical, social, and cultural differences. For instance, “moreish” offers a treatise on snacking habits of Americans and Brits, while “quite” demonstrates American overenthusiasm versus British understatement.
Overall, this is a funny, poignant little book full of conversation starters. My favorite word was “crimbo,” an irreverent nickname for the Christmas season which I was not familiar with. I also appreciated a reference to “the little black dress of swears” (you can guess what word that refers to) and a letter from Jane Austen to her sister used as background for the word “sorry.”
As usual, I agree with my sister– England does feel like a magical place, but also somewhat familiar every time I’ve been. Maybe it’s that we were blessed to go at an early age combined with loving reading anything I can set in England. I thought I knew what I was getting into but I’m still shocked at “crimbo”! Do Americans know this term? My favorite thing might have been this “Americans are really earnest – in a way that the English find faintly ridiculous.” Well- we generally are I think! This was a fun and engaging read, definitely a book for anyone who wants to be sure they’re speaking the Queen’s English correctly! I quite liked it.
“Some people still think of the English spoken in England as the mother tongue, and the English spoken in America as it’s wayward child. But it isn’t true. Today’s English English, like American English, evolved as a dialect from sixteenth-century English, and neither can claim to be closer to the original.”
Thank you Penguin Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!