[Original post contains a picture of a block of text, reading: ‘“Quite”: an adverbial modifier that shades the meaning of a statement. Americans use “quite” to amplify their enthusiasm for the adjective, in the way they would use “really”, “very” or “totally”. By contrast, if a Brit volunteers that a visitor is “quite attractive”, they’re only saying “fairly” or “sort of attractive”. This ambiguous intensifier bestows a “damning with faint praise” effect on any word with which it is teamed.’
And that’s terrible.: shiphassailed: tigerpellets: I NEVER KNEW THISI NEVER KNEW THAT WAS…
I NEVER KNEW THIS
I NEVER KNEW THAT WAS WHAT AMERICANS MEANT WHEN THEY SAID “QUITE”
WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY TELL ME
SUDDENLY THAT ONE SONG THAT GOES “HELLO I MISS YOU QUITE TERRIBLY” MAKES LIKE A MILLION TIMES MORE SENSE
are you serious british…
How can you all not know this? That’s QUITE terrible!
What the hell??? I didn’t know this was a thing that differed between brits and americans. W OWWww.
okay you know what
JAMIE, IS THIS TRUE?
A bit true. In my experience (dialects and registers vary, of course), ‘quite’ generally adds little to what it modifies. To say someone is ‘quite attractive’ is not necessarily higher praise than saying they are ‘attractive’, nor is it necessarily (or even usually) ‘damning with faint praise’. It’s quite* context-sensitive.
Consider the following exchange:
- Person 1: ‘Wow, Christian Bale is really attractive!’
- Person 2: ‘Yeah, he’s quite attractive.’
I’d interpret that to mean that person 2 doesn’t radically disagree but wants to add a note of moderation. They’re not really prepared to go as far as ‘really attractive’, but I wouldn’t assume that they find him unattractive.
On the other hand:
- Person 1: ‘Wow, Christian Bale is hideous!’
- Person 2: ‘I think he’s quite attractive.’
Here 2 is clearly disagreeing with 1. The word ‘quite’ adds little except perhaps to convey that 2 acknowledges that Bale is not the most attractive person in the world and there could be scope for disagreement about his attractiveness. Nonetheless the ‘quite’ clearly indicates that Bale is attractive to a degree that is by no means to be sneezed at. He’s more than ‘sort of’ attractive.
So it’s a rather unhelpful adverb, really, or at least a very subtle one. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s very rarely a significant intensifier and can’t readily be exchanged for ‘very’, let alone ‘totally’.
The exception is in old-fashioned British English. If you go back to the earlier part of the twentieth century, and to a certain somewhat posh way of speaking, ‘quite’ means ‘entirely’ or ‘completely’ (or, more loosely, ‘very’). For example, ‘Oh Geoffrey, it was quite ghastly!’ — this means that it was entirely ghastly, with no element of non-ghastliness. Or, ‘Dash it, I had quite forgotten!’ — meaning that the speaker had completely failed to remember.
If you go back further, you find this sense as standard, e.g. ‘The commons hath he pill’d with grievous taxes, / And quite lost their hearts: the nobles hath he fin’d / For ancient quarrels and quite lost their hearts’ (Richard II 2.1). You still get hints of it today, when ‘quite’ is used to modify adjectives that are quantifiable, e.g. ‘I’m not quite sure’ (meaning ‘I’m not completely sure’) would still be a perfectly normal thing to say, though it would perhaps be more usual to say ‘I’m not completely sure’ or something like that.
You also get a whiff of this old meaning in certain well-established phrases like ‘quite enough’ (e.g. ‘that’s quite enough of that, thank you’ — a stern and slightly old-fashioned way of saying ‘stop that’), or when ‘quite’ is used on its own as a way of indicating ‘what you have said is exactly right’ with a slight connotation of ‘what you have said is even more true than you realize’ or ‘you have unintentionally said something extremely apposite’, e.g.:
- Jamie: ‘I have set out my thoughts on this subject at some length…’
- Tumblr: ‘Quite.’
* (My use of ‘quite’ here means ‘I don’t want to commit to saying something as categorical as “it’s context-sensitive” because I’m not sure that’s always true’. You could substitute ‘fairly’. It’s perhaps a bit stronger than ‘somewhat’.)
(Source: tigerfeel, via tiny-puppy-teeth)