‘Quite good’ and the hidden snag that no one told me about

Posted on February 16, 2011 by yankeebean

The other night one of my newly-expatriated Canadian friends pointed out that ‘quite good’ is one of the hidden-and-never-mentioned differences between us and them (or us and us, to be truer to my current situation).

When it comes to the language barrier, expats will instantly tell you about ‘pants’ (underwear!) and ‘fags’ (cigarettes!) – and the the brave ones will tell you about ‘fanny’ (umm…), but ‘quite good’ slips right under the radar.  I didn’t even know about it, its new Brit-i-fied meaning had just misted over me and seeped in without me noticing.

Here’s the low down:

  • In American, ‘quite good’ means something is slightly better than good. (And the inflection goes up)
  • In Britain, ‘quite good’ means something is slightly less than good. (But the inflection goes down)

As soon as Mr Canuck said it, I knew exactly what he meant.  And without realising it, somewhere over the past 7 years I’ve adopted the UK version.

Mr Canuck’s lady friend, Ms Canuck, piped in (horrified) because she said she’s probably been offending people without realising.  Man, do I know how she feels – when I was fresh off the boat, I repelled British people (especially women) with razor-like accuracy.

All that aside, my favourite part is that it fits so nicely with the stereotypes of both my peeps.  The American version hedges towards the positive in a kind of, ‘yeah, it was enjoyable, I had a good time’ kind of way.  But the Brits hedge towards the negative – ‘It wasn’t utter shite, but I wasn’t too impressed.’

It’s so beautifully subtle and excellent… I love these hidden gems that keep turning up even 7 years on.  Long may it continue!

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  1. Pingback: One of the best English to American translations I’ve ever seen… | She's Not From Yorkshire

  2. rachael February 17, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I hadn’t noticed that one either. Like you, I’ve adopted the British version. No idea how I’m going to get on when I visit family in the States.

    • Anonymous May 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Do you ever find your American crowd calling you on it?  

      Some of my friends back in the States think I’m more negative after living the UK – but I’m aware they’re seeing me through star-spangled glasses… 

  3. yankeebean February 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    “American quite good” – I LOVE IT! Consider it adopted…

  4. Christiana February 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Ha… this is one of the first things I learned, that, and the use of “she” (who’s she, the cat’s mother?). I use “quite” all the time, and my husband pointed it out a bunch and now we say “that’s quite good, american quite” or “that’s american quite good!” which I’m sure is odd in conversations with other people. :)

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