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on 4 December 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
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on 5 November 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.
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on 29 July 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
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on 16 August 2010
An interesting read but nothing ground breaking. Like so many of these books they talk about Britain and British English as though time has stood still. Too many (if not all) of the examples appear to date from the 1920s. When you read it there is a strange feeling as though you're watching a pre-war black and white film with a lot of received pronunciation. If it's free to read then read it but otherwise don't waste your money.
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2003
When I first picked up this book, I was like a kid in a candy store. All those British mysteries that I had fumbled through trying to pick meaning from context came flooding back to me Finally when Agatha Christie's Miss Blacklock became a chartered accountant, on page 119 it is the equivalent of a CPA
Next my mind wanders as I browsed the pages and could hear Hannibal Lector saying he was going to eat my liver with some, page 32, broad beans. The book is divided in to useful subjects.
Being cautious, I was not going to let author Christopher Davies pull the wool over my eyes; so I had an international admissions officer from the local collage look at the section on British schools. I had to wrench the book back. It had passed scrutiny.
Finally I made the mistake of showing it to my wife. Now I have to sue for custody
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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 in the U.S. 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, of necessity, 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.
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on 9 June 2006
Don't drop a clanger-make a big faux pas-when traveling in the U.K or the U.S.! This book is a terrific read for anyone planning a trip to Britain. Amusing and useful, I would recommend DIVIDED BY A COMMON LANGUAGE to anyone hoping to "say the right thing" from pubs to politics and television to travel. This book is a gem that will keep you in the know. Cheers!
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on 15 July 2016
Before buying this book, note that quite a few of the 5-star reviews are from 1998.

The information within is pretty dated; there's a section on how to use phone cards in phone boxes, and the author frequently refers to old technology that is no longer available. The author says that most British pubs will usually offer diners a ploughman's lunch, lager is "favoured by the younger generation", and references antiquated traditions like half-day closing.

My biggest gripe, though, is that half of the text has nothing at all to do with language. It reads more like a guidebook. I bought the book to learn about American English, and a certain amount of background is helpful. However, I don't really need to know the detailed pros and cons of the plumbing conventions in American toilets.

When it's good, it's excellent. But there's too much filler here, and it's in desperate need of an update.
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