Book: "Divided by a Common Language," by Christopher Davies (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95)
Target audience: Yanks who have ordered squash and gotten lemonade.
Here's a useful concept: an English-English translation dictionary. American words and expressions mystify the British as much as theirs perplex us. They take their cars to panel beaters; we go to body shops. We drive down a dirt road; there it's an unmade road. We say iodine; they pronounce it "io-deen." Then there's that whole fries/chips/crisps thing. There are hundreds of such examples. Sometimes we're more creative, sometimes they are -- although the United Kingdom gets an edge with the marvelous "bumf," which means unwanted papers and documents.
Davies's presentation could be better organized -- words seem to be relegated haphazardly among sections -- but there is a comprehensive index. (He's also shy about including some of the nastiest words, the ones that could really get you in trouble.) He doesn't limit the comparisons to language, but warns of other surprises as well: In Britain, for example, the cold water faucet (er, "tap") isn't always on the right. Brits are warned that in the United States, one flips a light switch up to turn it on. As different as chalk and cheese, our two countries are.
-- Jerry V. Haines