Divided by a common language

by Henry on June 23, 2004

Commenter ‘giles’ says:

The most interesting revelation of the night – that Bill thought kerry would make “quite” a good president – was I thought the revelation of the night. The parochial BBC pr department seems to have missed it entirely.

The BBC was probably right not to pick up on it, thanks to a very important difference between British English and American English. “Quite” in British-English, and indeed in its Hibernian variant (which is of course the purest and most supple form of the language) means “reasonably, but not very.” Thus, if Bill Clinton were British, his comment would be an unsubtle put-down. However, in American English, “quite” means “very” or “extremely” – so it’s a considerable compliment. One of my friends experienced this ambiguity at first hand a few years ago, when she invited her (American) boyfriend back to Dublin to meet the family. After eating dinner at my friend’s family home, the boyfriend remarked that the food was “quite good.” He thought he was passing a compliment; my friend’s mother thought he was a snotty Yank making disparaging remarks about her cooking, with predictably unfortunate consequences for familial relationships until it was all explained. So, the odds are that Clinton’s comment was entirely unexceptionable. You could probably still advance a malign interpretation: since Clinton has spent a considerable amount of time in the UK, he might have been aware of this ambiguity, and playing it cute by speaking out of both sides of his mouth at once. Still, an interpretation of this sort would seem a bit forced for what was, after all, one brief comment in a rather long interview.

Update: I’d quite forgotten that Chris has already addressed this point in a post last December.

{ 59 comments }

1

Chris Bertram 06.23.04 at 3:45 pm

And see our earlier discussion of “quite”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001077.html on CT back in December.

2

Jeff Cooper 06.23.04 at 3:45 pm

I first encountered this difference in usage about a dozen years ago, when I was at the height of my wine-collecting phase. At first, I couldn’t understand why British wine writer Clive Coates would describe a wine a “quite good” and then give it a mediocre score. Eventually, the light went on.

3

q 06.23.04 at 3:55 pm

Fascinating – you are a font of information. Do you want to cover Irish-English too?

1) amn’t I
2) “filum” (for film)

btw…In the UK you can use “quite” in both ways – depending on the tone of your voice. Are both ways used in the US much? Maybe Americans are just too nice to make backhanded compliments.

4

Dan Hardie 06.23.04 at 4:00 pm

‘“Quite” in British-English, and indeed in its Hibernian variant (which is of course the purest and most supple form of the language) means “reasonably, but not very.” ‘

Of course I know this about ‘purity’ is just a charming Celtic wind-up, and besides you’re very bitter right now about what a useless football team you have. But allow me to point out that the uncultured Americans use ‘quite’ in the sense in which it would have been used by, say, Jane Austen, or, going further back, Dr Johnson- so one could argue that it is our American cousins who have preserved the purest form of English.

5

des von bladet 06.23.04 at 4:10 pm

Quite right!

6

q 06.23.04 at 4:19 pm

The original English were blue-faced and favoured brutality over verbosity.

Eating bread, beef and lots of beer , yelling “Roooooooooney” and then punching your neighbour is a purer form of English than a debate over the use of “quite”. The purest form of English is retained in the behaviour of English football fans.

Verbal niceties probably came in from the French. So I would say that the Americans have preserved the purest form of French, who prefer art over violence. (Does that please them?)

7

lily 06.23.04 at 4:23 pm

I dunno. Maybe we’re talking about regional usages here or people who don’t have a handle on the language.

But I speak American English and, to me, quite good means, ok, mediocre, damning with faint praise.

I don’t know anyone who says “quite good” to mean fabulous and would love to see some examples — in context– of this supposed american usage.

8

LizardBreath 06.23.04 at 4:45 pm

As an American, I don’t think ‘quite good’ is an entirely unmixed compliment, but I wouldn’t call it damning with faint praise either. The overtone I hear is that when I describe something as ‘quite good’in my own idiolect of American English, while my opinion of the object of the expression my be very high, I imply that a negative evaluation was somehow expected, either by my interlocutor or by myself. Sample usages would be:

Q: Is something wrong with the food? You’re not eating.

A: No, no, it’s quite good — I just had a late breakfast.

or

Q: How was the new Adam Sandler movie?

A: Surprising though it may sound, it was quite good.

While the food may have been delicious and the movie a masterpiece, ‘quite good’ acknowledges that that isn’t the expected answer for some reason.

I haven’t looked at Clinton’s quote in context, but if he uses ‘quite good’ like I do I would interpret it as meaning “I understand that you expect me to have some uncomplimentary things to say about Kerry. In fact, I don’t.”

9

Troy 06.23.04 at 4:47 pm

In the UK ‘quite’ is not necesssarily slighting or negative; tone of voice seems to determine whether it qualifies up or down.

I cannot imagine an American speaker using ‘quite’ sarcastically or to downgrade a thing. When used, it would used much as ‘very’.

10

Troy 06.23.04 at 4:48 pm

In the UK ‘quite’ is not necesssarily slighting or negative; tone of voice seems to determine whether it qualifies up or down.

I cannot imagine an American speaker using ‘quite’ sarcastically or to downgrade a thing. When used, it means much the same as ‘very’.

11

liberal japonicus 06.23.04 at 4:55 pm

I think this plugs into a discussion about whether Americans actually can be ironic. There was some discussion about irony at this very blog that was a spillover from Belle’s blog, which I think was started up by this Guardian article Also, this BBC story

I would disagree with lily. I think ‘quite good’, when delivered without any alternative choices does mean ‘excellent’ in American English. However, if there are choices, it can have the feeling of damning with faint praise. Here are some examples from Google

- The first volume was quite good, so I’ll recommend this second one sight unseen
-Excellent, excellent evening. The mixer was quite nice, and the entertainment after dinner was quite good
-Food and service quite good
Many excellent dishes to chose from
Always a stop when visiting London.
(an american commenting on a london restaurant, I think)
These examples show that quite good is actually very good, at least for some speakers.

On the specific example, Clinton could not have said that Kerry was the best possible choice for president, especially when a large number of Democrats felt that any number of people would have been better choices. Thus, ‘quite good’ is a very useful way of acknowledging the preferences of others without denigrating Kerry’s candidacy. He could have said that it doesn’t matter who the Democrats put up because Bush is such a loser, but that would have really sucked the oxygen out.

12

Dan Hardie 06.23.04 at 5:10 pm

When teaching English to foreigners, I was plagued for months by the problem of how to explain ‘quite’. Did it mean ‘absolutely’, ‘very’, ‘somewhat’, or ‘just about’? It seemed to depend on the context and the tone of voice, but I could never pin down what tone of voice implied which meaning.
I finally resolved the problem by advising my students to never, ever use the word.

13

rea 06.23.04 at 5:42 pm

“I think this plugs into a discussion about whether Americans actually can be ironic.”

Americans are quite capable of irony, thank you. ;)

14

Doug 06.23.04 at 5:49 pm

No they aren’t, just artistic violence, thus combining the best of our Anglo-Franco heritages, without of course retaining the Francophone spelling that has somehow gotten stuck on the Hanoverian side of the Narrow Sea. Sarcasm is quite foreign to the American sensibility, if indeed there is one, as is winding people up.

15

lily 06.23.04 at 5:54 pm

With all due respect lizardbreath, I would never tell a host the food was quite good because to me, that’s the same as saying “it’s ok, I’m just not hungry.”

And liberal japonicus, your examples don’t do it for me. There’s nothing in them to show that the intent of the speaker is to describe something as “very good” as opposed to “good enough.”

However, after reflecting on this subject I did come up with one usage in which “quite” — to me– would mean completely and could indeed be replaced by very. That’s when you say something –insturctions, map, etc — was quite clear. ie. “I don’t see how you could have missed our cottage. The instructions were quite clear.”
subtext= You idiot.

I don’t think, this is an English/American split at all though. According to Fowler, this controversy has been around for donkey’s years and people argue about it over tea at the cricket match.

16

LizardBreath 06.23.04 at 6:06 pm

With all due respect lizardbreath, I would never tell a host the food was quite good because to me, that’s the same as saying “it’s ok, I’m just not hungry.”

That looks like exactly what I would mean by it — ‘quite’ would be a reassurance that the problem was with the speaker’s appetite rather than with the food. In that statement, ‘quite good’ could mean that the food was anywhere from absolutely delicious to inoffensive, and the function of ‘quite’ would be to overcome the implicit negative assumption in the question, rather than to quantify exactly how good the food was.

17

Chris Marcil 06.23.04 at 6:10 pm

This United Statesean has to side w/ lizardbreath.

Accordingly Clinton’s praise of Kerry was quite a compliment.

Confidential to fellow Americans: Yankees suck.

That is all.

18

lily 06.23.04 at 6:17 pm

sorry lizbreath, the way I see it I’ve just insulted your cooking and now I’m telling a lame lie about not being hungry before rushing out to procure myself an emergency curry.

I think we need examples where the speaker’s intent is clear. Otherwise, we’re just offering up our own opinions on what the speaker meant.

and really, would you tell your mother in law her food was “quite good” at your introductory dinner?

19

lily 06.23.04 at 6:19 pm

that would be future mother-in-law…

20

eudoxis 06.23.04 at 6:21 pm

The word “quite” is used either as a qualifyer or an intensifier. The meaning of the word “quite” depends on context and intonation. Use of the word “quite” in the context “quite a good” doesn’t, necessarily, mean “very” or “extremely”. In American usage this can mean “not so bad”. It rather depends on intonation of both “quite” and “president”. If the emphasis is on both of those words, with stress on the end of “president”, “quite” is a qualifier. If the stress is not on “president”, but on the words “quite” and “good” then “quite” is an intensifier.

21

Ophelia Benson 06.23.04 at 6:37 pm

This is hilarious. I had to check the December discussion (which I had quite forgotten) to make sure I wouldn’t just re-say exactly what I said in December because as soon as I saw there had been such a discussion I knew I must have said something.

But I must say I think you’re all bat-loony. I’m an American and I would never, ever, even if quite drunk, say to the cook ‘The food is quite good.’ To me that would decidedly emphatically mean ‘Not very good, not all that good, certainly not delicious, just fairly good, okay, adequate, try to do better next time.’ I would expect a punch in the face if I said that!

22

liberal japonicus 06.23.04 at 7:33 pm

You know, praising cooking ability is a rather circumscribed area of conversational pragmatics, so arguing about the general meaning of ‘quite good’ from talking about cooking is quite misleading. (sorry, couldn’t resist that)

Normally, when an American is asked for an opinion, if s/he simply says ‘that’s great’ and ends there, the impression is one of blowing off the person’s effort. The general pattern is to make some suggestions to improve the idea, which shows that the listener is as invested in the idea as the speaker. Note that this does not work with food. ‘How was the soup?’ ‘Great, but I would have added a bit more cilantro to heighten the contrast’. Part of it is that the person can’t go back and remake the soup and a project is generally ongoing.

There is also the question of expectation which lizardbreath points out. Quite good can mean I wasn’t sure when I first heard it, but now I’m pleasantly surprised. You aren’t going to say ‘the chicken was quite good’, but you might say ‘the roasted chicken with chocolate sauce was quite good’

A related point is that Brits and Americans use ‘really’ in a different way. I’ve never gotten a handle on it, but one of the reasons to use ‘quite’ to modify good is that ‘really’ sounds a bit too much like a teenager. Brits, who I don’t think use really as a modifier very much, don’t use quite as a substitute.

23

spencer 06.23.04 at 7:58 pm

I’m an American and I would never, ever, even if quite drunk, say to the cook ‘The food is quite good.’ To me that would decidedly emphatically mean ‘Not very good, not all that good, certainly not delicious, just fairly good, okay, adequate, try to do better next time.’

I’m also an American, and I had never even heard of this interpretation of the word “quite” before today.

Great – now I have to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to remember who I may have inadvertently insulted over the years. Quite fun.

24

Matt Weiner 06.23.04 at 8:30 pm

I’m an American too, and though I might never say to the cook’s face that the food was quite good, I think I would say to someone else that the food was quite good and mean a complement. “Delicious! Excellent! Just like mama used to make! I couldn’t eat another bite!” is the sort of stuff to say to cooks, but that’s because it’s socially mandatory in America to complement fulsomely (note: this is about as based on serious research as most of David Brooks’ work).

And, my fellow Americans–does “quite” sound British to anyone else? I’m reminded of the couple in P.G. Wodehouse* who sever their engagement because the woman can’t stand the man’s constant Americanism (such as “mustarsh” instead of “moostosh”)–the woman’s characteristic utterance is “Quate.”

*Prudence (lnu) and Tubby Vanringham, in Summer Moonshine.

25

evan 06.23.04 at 8:32 pm

As a New Zealander who has lived in America four years, I would say that Americans more often use “quite” in the sense of “very”, and much less often in the sense of “moderately” and less often again in an ironic sense.

People in the Midwest will say with all politeness “It was quite nice to meet you,” on first meeting you which seems underwhelming, and less effusive than normal conversational practice here. It took me a while to realize they probably meant “very nice to meet you.”

Whether those phrases are accurate is a different question!

26

q 06.23.04 at 8:32 pm

Just say “The food is awesome”. Much simpler.

27

evan 06.23.04 at 8:33 pm

As a New Zealander who has lived in America four years, I would say that Americans more often use “quite” in the sense of “very”, and much less often in the sense of “moderately” and less often again in an ironic sense.

People in the Midwest will say with all politeness “It was quite nice to meet you,” on first meeting you which seems underwhelming, and less effusive than normal conversational practice here. It took me a while to realize they probably meant “very nice to meet you.”

Whether those phrases are accurate is a different question!

28

evan 06.23.04 at 8:33 pm

As a New Zealander who has lived in America four years, I would say that Americans more often use “quite” in the sense of “very”, and much less often in the sense of “moderately” and less often again in an ironic sense.

People in the Midwest will say with all politeness “It was quite nice to meet you,” on first meeting you which seems underwhelming, and less effusive than normal conversational practice here. It took me a while to realize they probably meant “very nice to meet you.”

Whether those phrases are accurate is a different question!

29

q 06.23.04 at 8:38 pm

… or “The food sucks”.

30

Ophelia Benson 06.23.04 at 9:21 pm

“And, my fellow Americans—does “quite” sound British to anyone else?”

Sure. That’s one of the things that got discussed in the December version. Including an argument I had with my brother about whether Americans even say it at all, and the fact that I cop to being quite affected.

31

Ophelia Benson 06.23.04 at 9:24 pm

“As a New Zealander who has lived in America four years, I would say that Americans more often use “quite” in the sense of “very”, and much less often in the sense of “moderately” and less often again in an ironic sense.”

Funny. People keep saying that and I’m not aware of ever having heard it used that way.

But then, I haven’t been in the Midwest in a long time.

32

lily 06.23.04 at 9:42 pm

Ophelia, I’m with you. Apart from my “the directions were quite clear” example above, I know of no others where quite is simply substituted for “very.”

However, I do think Eudoxis’ point is also valid. In certain situations, meaning does depend very much (note not quite much) on the intonation and emphasis of the speaker.

Frankly, I think this is a literate vs semi-literate debate as opposed to Brit vs Yank usage. And if that makes me sound like a snob I will make exceptions for weird evolving midwestern usages like “I’m quite pleased to meet you.”

I’ve got to tell you though anyone said that to me on a date and it would be our final one!!!

33

John Casey 06.23.04 at 10:04 pm

I just listened to the interview this morning: Clinton said Kerry would be ‘quite good’ as President, the Brit interviewer gave him a raised eyebrow, ‘only ‘quite’ good?’. Clinton then said, ‘Oh, I mean he would be excellent’
Dunno if this is exact, but the word ‘excellent’ was definitely used.

So there we have it. Instant translation: in Clintonspeak, “quite good”==”excellent”.

See Kevin Drum’s blog for the link to the interview.

34

quite annoyed 06.23.04 at 10:23 pm

I was born and reared in the south and have lived in the midwest and now the mid-atlantic and I have never heard anyone use the word as anything but a superlative. (Maybe that’s a manifestation of my American irony deficit?) I hadn’t even heard of the alternate meaning until reading of it a few months ago on this blog. I do agree that given the context and the tone of voice it can come off as defensive (“It’s quite good, thank you!”) or aggressive (“The facts are quite clear.”). But in each case it’s clear meaning to me is “very” despite the subtext.

35

Matt Weiner 06.23.04 at 10:33 pm

It seems from the December discussion that “affected” and “British” must be the same thing. (ducks, covers head)

36

HP 06.23.04 at 10:40 pm

While “quite good” and “quite nice” often sound a bit affected in American English, I think you’ll hear the negation “not quite,” meaning “almost,” without affectation: “Are you ready?” “Not quite. Gimme a minute.”

But an American would never answer “Are you ready?” with “Yes. Quite ready.” That sounds really British.

On a somewhat related note: I once knew an old Hoosier farmer who would say “not half good” to mean “fully and completely good.” Thus: “Try this cake–it’s not half good.”

37

Ophelia Benson 06.23.04 at 10:47 pm

“It seems from the December discussion that “affected” and “British” must be the same thing.”

Well in some people’s minds it is! Which is part of why I copped to it – there was a good deal of irony there.

There was a really dopy article about that in the Chronicle of Higher Ed last week, the writer of which characterized every single (arguably) Ukainian usage on the part of a Murkan as ‘affected’ even though a lot of them were highly (even quite) downmarket! Pure slang, teenspeak, colloquialisms, not posh stuff, but if some Yank says it, wallop, it’s an affectation. Is not, said I to myself through a mouthful of Weetabix.

Honestly! Just for one thing, some of us have Ukanian friends, and what with email and group blogs and one thing and another, we may talk to them quite a lot – so we pick up each other’s argot, that’s all. It’s not affected, it’s just what people do.

So sod off, Chronicle!

38

Tom T. 06.24.04 at 12:48 am

DC native here, and I’m with Spencer. I’d never heard of using “quite” as anything other than emphasis until I read the earlier CT article. This whole discussion is quite enlightening.

39

Tom T. 06.24.04 at 12:48 am

DC native here, and I’m with Spencer. I’d never heard of using “quite” as anything other than emphasis until I read the earlier CT article. This whole discussion is quite enlightening.

40

Ophelia Benson 06.24.04 at 1:03 am

Of course another good form of emphasis is to say things twice, say things twice.

cackle

41

Mr Ripley 06.24.04 at 3:53 am

I (a Midwesterner) am with those who said in December that the USian “quite” is synonymous with “rilly” and tends to imply the refutation of a detractor. “We didn’t expect much when we went, but actually, it was quite good.”

Clinton, not a Midwesterner, probably has a different take on it.

42

Tom T. 06.24.04 at 5:51 am

I only hit the “post” button once, I swear.

I only hit the “post” button once, I swear.

43

Peter Cuthbertson 06.24.04 at 9:33 am

David Dimbleby, the interviewer, did pick up on it. He looked quite surprised that Clinton should use that moment to damn Kerry with what seemed so obviously faint praise: “QUITE a good President?”.

Clinton immediately said something like “Yes, a VERY good President. You don’t say that here?” as if the two statements were synonymous – which in US English it would appear they are.

44

charlene 06.24.04 at 10:38 am

“…an American would never answer “Are you ready?” with “Yes. Quite ready.” That sounds really British.” – hp 10.40pm

I doubt anyone “British” has said “Yes. Quite ready” since Mrs Miniver.

45

charlene 06.24.04 at 10:39 am

“…an American would never answer “Are you ready?” with “Yes. Quite ready.” That sounds really British.” – hp 10.40pm

I doubt anyone “British” has said “Yes. Quite ready” since Mrs Miniver, not to that question, anyway.

46

Sharon 06.24.04 at 11:14 am

Another British/American usage clash in the original thread…

‘“Ticked off” in American idiom is not transitive — Clinton was ticked off, not the BBC guy.’ Which confusion engendered further slightly confused responses. The British usage is, as pointed out there, quite different from the American one. For that, meanwhile, we Brits would be more likely to say ‘pissed off’. Whereas we don’t say that we’re ‘pissed at’ someone (‘pissed off with’, maybe). And being ‘pissed’ tends to involve becoming extremely happy (until the hangover next morning, at least), not getting angry.

Amazing how Brits and Americans ever manage to understand each other at all, really.

Reminds me of the stand-up comic routine (Jasper Carrott, I think, but this was back in the 70s when he wasn’t entirely crap), on his first visit to the US, when he asked his hosts if they’d like him to lay the table…

47

Jonathan 06.24.04 at 2:30 pm

Sorry for the late entry into the thread, but I do find this very (quite) interesting. Does the British English ‘quite’ NEVER mean ‘very’? I’m an American who is also a big Gilbert & Sullivan fan.

Gilbert wrote the following in London in 1881:

PATIENCE
Sir, I will speak plainly. In the matter of love I am untaught. I have never loved but my great-aunt. But I am quite certain that, under any circumstances, I couldn’t possibly love you.

BUNTHORNE
Oh, you think not?

PATIENCE
I’m quite sure of it. Quite sure. Quite.

It seems extremely (quite QUITE) unnatural to interpret Patience’s last line as meaning that she is only reasonably certain that she could never love Bunthorne. Is the modern British English ‘quite’ different from the Victorian one, and more like the American one? Or does this passage demonstrate an exception to the ‘quite’ = ‘somewhat’ rule?

48

redfox 06.24.04 at 2:31 pm

Or my own grandmother, a war bride, who arrived in the US and told her new mother in law that the job she’d had at the BBC was frustrating in a variety of ways, “but at least [she] was getting a good screw!”

49

john s 06.24.04 at 5:00 pm

First time he went to the US, a Scottish mate of mine went hitchhiking. One woman gave him a lift but threw him out of the car when he politely asked her if she’d ever been abroad.

What I want to know is where on earth “discombobulated” comes from?

50

Rory 06.24.04 at 5:09 pm

Jonathan, it’s a matter of tone. If I say, ‘Fred’s quite capable of making up his own mind, thank you’ in a firm tone, I mean that he really is capable of it. But if someone asks, ‘Is Fred capable of making up his own mind?’ and I reply, ‘hmmm, he’s quite capable,’ in an equivocal tone, then I’m casting doubt on it.

(Disclosure: I’m not British, but I’ve lived here for a while; and we Aussies seem to follow the British in this. This whole US ‘quite good’ = ‘very good’ business has been quite perplexing.)

51

q 06.24.04 at 5:22 pm

Have you got a rubber? Don’t ask your colleagues this in America (unless you really do want a condom, and not an “eraser”).

52

Ophelia Benson 06.24.04 at 6:06 pm

I thought of the ‘quite sure’ exception at some point (some much later, miles from computer, doing other, completely different things, point) yesterday. It’s true – quite sure means thoroughly sure, not fairly sure or rather sure. Mostly.

The wretched word must have at least two uses. As a mild intensifier (quite good, quite nice, quite stupid, quite dull) and as a synonym for thoroughly (quite sure, quite ready, quite finished).

That clears that up, right?

Quite.

53

will 06.25.04 at 3:23 am

The title of the Housemartins’ “Now That’s What I Call Quite Good!” acquires new meaning.

54

Zizka 06.25.04 at 6:20 pm

While Americans are capable of irony, irony is passe (accent acute) now — heavy sarcasm is the new irony. Also, invective and abuse. (I note that my vice President has recently adopted my sophisticated style of debate. Civil, weenie CT types are being left in the dust.)

I should also mention that the normative form of Godwin’s law has been abolished. Hitler is always already there, so the predictive form of Godwin’s law is trivially true. There’s no Hitler penalty any more, and anyone who says that there is is a Nazi and can go fuck themself.

NOTE: There is something very popular in the US which is called “irony”, but isn’t. What it especially means is being devoted to really, really bad pop culture just because it’s bad, and making whimsically negativistic tongue-in-cheek comments all the time.

55

anne 06.26.04 at 12:42 am

You’re looking in the wrong place. It depends on what “quite” is qualifying. If the word is indeterminate (eg, “good”) then “quite” devalues it. If the word is absolute (eg “excellent”) then “quite” intensifies it.

cf Quite nice
with
Quite disgusting.

56

anne 06.26.04 at 12:45 am

You’re looking in the wrong place. It depends on what “quite” is qualifying. If it’s indeterminate (eg “quite good”) then “quite” devalues. If it’s absolute (eg, “quite excellent”) then it intensifies.

Cf
quite nice
and
quite disgusting.

57

Sharon 06.26.04 at 6:48 pm

Have contributors to the thread seen this?

http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i41/41b01501.htm

The author complains that there are too many British expressions in the American press… and, worse, ‘the trend is moving beyond journalism, and to terms that… have perfectly good American counterparts’.

Now, if you swap ‘American’ and ‘British’ around, I’ve heard that kind of lament plenty of times over here. Usually, too, in an inverted version of the argument made in this article (Briticisms are pretentious and for poseurs): Americanisms are vulgar (etc, etc) pollutants of our pure and hallowed language (yawn).

I have no idea if this writer has really identified a trend (Somebody tell the Daily Telegraph!) or is talking codswallop. But the moment someone complains about a new usage from whatever source on the grounds that ‘we already have a perfectly good one of our own’, I feel a compulsion to giggle at the absurdity of it. This is English we’re talking about, a language characterised by its excess of synonyms – in all its variants – isn’t it?

58

pj 06.27.04 at 7:43 am

These days, a young american is likely to eat a meal cooked by his girlfriend’s mother and remark, “This food is ridiculous.” Roughly translated, that means “quite good.”

59

clew 06.29.04 at 5:46 am

Here’s some ambiguous evidence for the American use of ‘quite’ to make the assertion stronger: from Applied Statistics for Engineers and Scientists, Devore/Farnum, 2nd. ed., p. 90:

“The pattern in the plot is quite straight, indicating it is plausible that the population distribution of dielectric breakdown voltage is normal.”

I say ambiguous because one, it’s a straighter plot than the other three on the page, but it isn’t straight; and two, we haven’t quantified ‘plausible’.

(Both authors teach in California.)

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