on March 11, 2002
This is sheer enjoyment for readers, writers, editors, and crossword puzzle enthusiasts.
Christopher Davies has written a delightful dictionary that is comprised of:
* Two cross language lexicons
. UK-- Stone the crows! US -- Holy cow!
. US -- pumps (high heels); UK -- court shoes
* Cartoons that depict the US or UK interpretations in a humorous manner.
* Term classifications these explanations are lists of words and what they mean to each culture. "If an American asks you to crack a window, he wants you to open it slightly."
* Other variations which includes Canadian, Australian, South African terms and their American equivalent. A chip wagon is a van on the side of the road from which snacks are sold. However many Americans use colloquialisms such as lunch truck and roach coach, which are not listed in this dictionary.
* Words that have different meanings such as S.T.D. (US Sexually Transmitted Diseases and UK Subscriber Truck Dialling.)
* Idioms and expressions such as (UK) feel peckish (US) have the munchies.
* What not to say. "Bugger" is not polite in England; the UK phrase "give me a tinkle" should be replaced with "give me a call."
The chapters headings are: What happened to English in America; Tips for the Tourist; Practical Information; For the Technically Minded; Institutions and Services; Differences in Customs and Etiquette; Driving Terminology; Pronunciation; Spelling; Sundry Terms; What not to Say; Idioms and Expressions; UK-US Lexicon; US - UK Lexicon; Explanations; Notes on Symbols; Some Other Variations of English; Miscellaneous Information.
I love dictionaries. At 194 pages, Davies provides entertainment and information. It is a five star jaunt into words and meanings.
on March 24, 2004
I am an American and I have a very good friend from London. Recently my friend came to visit America, and while he was here I pulled out my copy of this book to see what he thought. While many of the terms were accurate, there were a significant number of entries that were outdated, completely off the mark, or close but not quite applied correctly. I handed my friend a red pen and he proceeded to rewrite some entries. He commented several times that the author "must have never been to England or spoken with actual English people" as there were so many phrases with inaccurate UK definitions or usages.
We did like the pronounciation comparison charts, though, and had a good time saying each of the words and comparing pronounciations. And making fun of the other person where necessary.
Overall I'd say, it's a good reference for an overall picture, but if you plan on incorporating any of the phrases into your vocabulary, have it checked by a native first.
on December 4, 1998
Taking his cue from George Bernard Shaw's, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language", Christopher Davies, of Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and the U.S., has penned, "Divided By A Common Language" with the subtitle, "A British/American Dictionary Plus, published by Mayflower Press. Divided, there's that word again, into sixteen sections interspersed with humorous illustrations, Davies takes us an historical, as well as practical, journey, even pointing out the differences between American and British plumbing! In the vocabulary portions we find the U.S. word "diaper" translated into "nappy", (familiar to watchers of British TV, ie, telly, shows).The U.S. slang "shut up" becomes "belt up" in the U.K. The examples are numerous and sometimes funny, sometimes surprising. In the restaurant section I was intrigued with "spotted dick" which is a suet or sponge pudding with currants. Also "bubble & squeak" which is a fried mashed potatoes and veggies patty. The handsome red, white and blue cover sports the two countries' flags, tempting you to sample its contents. Do, you won't be disappointed. A must-read for transatlantic travellers plus those who just love words and their derivations. Davies has appeared on many television shows and his book has been showcased on nationwide PBS channels and featured in the British publication Union Jack. Buy it--you'll like it! I await, with anticipation, the sequel.
Iris Forrest, Editor Ageless Press, Sarasota, Florida
Any American who wants to get past what you can learn about British words and phrases in a dictionary will benefit from this book.
Divided by a Common Language helped me overcome long-term misunderstandings about what I had been reading in English books. Some British words have an ordinary meaning in American English that is quite different from their British meaning. For example, the British "marrow" is a "large zucchini." For decades, I have been expecting to find beef marrow on my plate in England because of that misreading. I also thought that the British "paraffin" meant a petroleum-based wax as it does in the U.S., whereas it means "kerosene" in the U.K. In reading about someone going for paraffin in novels, I have been wondering what on earth they were going to make with all that wax. If you read this book, you will probably find your own examples of where you thought you knew what was going on . . . but really didn't. I suggest that you start with the British/American Lexicon to learn the most words with the least effort.
The book also has a useful section on British and American phrases, that should help you avoid inadvertently saying what will be perceived as vulgarities across the pond. For example, refer to "retrieving and returning baseballs" rather than "shagging flies" (make your own guess as to what that means, but it isn't nice).
In the vein of the potential for humorous miscommunications, there are a number of cartoons that show what John Bull and Uncle Sam are thinking about when the same word or phrase is said. "My wife loves pot plants, Sam" conjures up John Bull thinking about potted flowers while Uncle Sam imagines a garden full of marijuana plants.
I found four weaknesses in the book that you should be aware of. First, the food equivalents aren't really very precise in some cases. So you may get some surprises. A scone and a biscuit are described as the same, which most of us would argue they are not. A burrito is described as meat and salad in a tortilla, while most would agree that it is as likely to have beans and cheese with sauce as it is to have meat and salad. Second, the book mostly focuses on the contemporary British language so it is less helpful than it might be if you are reading older British books. Third, the U.K. words more represent the usages of English people than they do on what you will encounter in Scotland or Wales. Fourth, some U.K. terms described here are actually in common usage (at least in the northeast and in California, the areas I know best) in the United States. "Pins and needles" is the way many Americans would describe the feeling of blood circulation returning to an limb that has gone numb, but is described as a British term here.
I don't feel competent to review how helpful this book would be to a British person, so I will skip that perspective.
The book covers how the languages came to diverge, tips for tourists, detailed information about important daily subjects (cars, telephones, plumbing, electricity, food, shopping, schools, sights, and measurements), etiquette, driving terminology, pronunciation, spelling, "what not to say," idioms and expressions, and a U.K.-U.S. and a U.S.-U.K. lexicon. There's also some information about Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and South African variations.
Good luck in explaining yourself to those in the U.K.
Above all, DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE is a book primarily of lists. So, it's probably not one you'll actually read from cover to cover unless you're an Anglophile like me.
This volume by Chris Davies is not very long at 194 paperbacked pages. In roughly the first third, Chris writes short commentaries on a number of topics that serve to illustrate the differences in language and life styles between the US and UK: tips for the tourist (airport, hotel), practical information (automobiles, gas/petrol), technical information (plumbing, electricity), institutions/services (postal system, banks, currency, restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, school, government, shops, food, clothing), customs and etiquette, driving terminology (roads, road terms), punctuation, spelling, and idioms and expressions. These topics are sometimes accompanied by short lists of terms, provided in US and UK equivalents, to further illustrate whatever point he's making. Within a single topic, as under "customs and etiquette", his choice of sub-topics seems rather eclectic: phone manners, common conversational courtesy, church attendance, drive-ins and drive-throughs, utility bills, valet parking, window screens, air-conditioning, soda fountains, healthcare, sports, folklore monsters, and public and legal holidays.
The majority of the book's pages comprise two long lists: a British-American lexicon, and an American-British lexicon.
I suppose DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE has a practical use, especially if you're a Yank visiting England for the first time, or a Brit going the other way, and you prefer to learn from printed material. I might have used such a reference before the first of my dozen trips across The Pond. (However, I'd rather learn by just immersing myself in the experience of being there.) For me, the principal merit of this book lies in its entertainment value, and the sheer delight of having my memories of England stimulated by the words and expressions one encounters there. Some of my favorites are: catseyes (reflecting highway lane markers), ice lolly (popsicle), full stop (period), dodgy (risky), crisps (potato chips), elevenses (morning tea break), plonk (cheap wine), The Tube (London subway), have a natter (shoot the breeze), bang on (right on), pull your socks up (try harder), spend a penny (use the bathroom), and wonky (unstable).[....]So, take a recce on (check out) this book. Perhaps when you're next in some remote English village, e.g. Twitchen, Splatt, Droop, Gweek, Upper Dicker, Briantspuddle or Barton In The Beans, and someone asks if you'd like some Spotted Dick, you'll know that it's a dessert and not an S.T.D. (That's Subscriber Trunk Dialling.)
on July 29, 1998
I stumbled upon this book by accident. I don't believe the author meant this as an entertaining book, but a serious reference source for British and American travelers. Just by scanning the pages you can see how misunderstandings can occur even though we are speaking the same language. The example of "Keep your pecker up" in Brit is the same as "Keep smiling" on this side of the pond could certainly lead to some bizarre encounters. The author limits the work to common and current phrases, which makes the book manageable. Who would have know that Americans in Britain should wear a "Bum Bag" instead of a "Fanny Pack". As with any travel its good to know the language, even if you already think know it. Divided by a Common Language is a must for any Anglophile. Tom Wilson Tampa, FL
on November 4, 2000
I recently came back from a trip to Australia. Not only was this book invaluable for everyday communication, but the section on Australian slang saved me from being totally lost when talking to Aussies. A must for any traveler to a country where British English is spoken. The comprehensive list of word comparisons make this a serious reference book, but the expressions and idioms are what make this book fun to read! Explanations on acronyms such as ZIP code and Amtrak, as well as unraveling the mystery as to why Americans drive on the right and Brits on the left make this a great book for resolving disputes. My only criticism is that I would have liked to have seen a few more of the humorous illustrations which help to lighten up the book.
on November 11, 2001
One thing this book does go to prove, is that even the most learned of linguistic scholars amongst us (re:the author) remains, as ever, "divided" by our common language.
My tip to any American visitor to these shores would be not to take this book too seriously. Many of the phrases, expressions and translations offered are somewhat antiquated and dated. The section of this book providing most humour is where the authour offers advice to Britons in America, and what common British expressions we should not say whilst in the States. Thank you for the advice, but there are many phrases inlcuded that a Brit wouldn't use here either. Quite simply, I wouldn't be understood.
on December 5, 2001
"Divided by a Common Language" is really the only true British-American dictionary I have come across. It gives direct comparisons of words and expressions, which is what one wants in a reference book. I have recently been teaching in the UK, and I can vouch that both the British and American terms are current. Davies has made this book more than just a dictionary however. There is a plethora of information here. Tidbits of information on various topics, such as the reason the British drive on the left, and the origin of the dollar sign, make this book good reading. Recommended reading for all travelers.
on October 16, 2004
It's not the be all and end all but it's a good quick reference. If you're really serious you should get a different one to supplement this.
PS: to the person who referred to pumps as high-heeled shoes, that is not correct. It has nothing to do with the heels (think of men's dress pumps) just the fact that they slip on. A common mistake but one to clarify.