Monday, March 22, 2010

quite

This is quite somewhat embarrassing, but whenever I'm around people with English (or South African) accents, I suddenly use words that strike me as more British. Words like "terribly," "washroom," "rubbish," "nice," and "quite." I don't know why I do this, probably because I'm not a prestige speaker; instead of using a consistent set of phrases and syntax, I imitate the language patterns the people I'm with, or at least, my perception of their language patterns. I say "What!" more around Hobbes and "Good Heavens!" around my roommate, simply because they seem to use those exclamations more.

There is a problem with this, since sometimes I get it wrong. "Quite," for instance, in American English, is a formal way of saying "very," but in British English it means "somewhat" or "kind of." So "that's quite nice" can mean "that sounds fantastic" or "that's kinda alright, I guess." It makes me want to go back and read Austen or Shakespeare with this new knowledge to see if people were actually being insulting when I thought they were being nicely polite. It also makes me annoyed that in the situations I'm most likely to use "quite," I'm most likely to use it in a semantically ambiguous way (or the "wrong" way from the point of view of the hearer).

4 comments:

Acius said...

I have had problems with this.

Part of the problem is that British English is fond of understatement -- so although "quite" literally means "not so much," it can also be used for understatement, which is in turn a form of emphasis. Thus:

"I hate Hitler!"
"He really was quite dreadful, don't you think?"

Andrea said...

Ha ha ha, I do the same thing. :-/ But, really, "brilliant" is a much better word than "cool", don't you think? :-D

Tiff said...

ohhh, I do that whenever I read books of British authors... haha.

Werf said...

My sentence syntax and phrase usage is also highly based on who I'm with. Odd lol