Learn English – “inquisitive” vs. “inquiring” in AmE and BrE


Do these terms share the same level of laudatoriness/pejorativeness in both BrE and AmE?

Or, does one typically have a more positive/negative connotation to it than the other from your side of the pond?

For example, think of "inquisitive mind" vs. "inquiring mind."

Also, would you define Lt. Columbo as an "ever-inquisitive" or "ever-inquiring" police officer to say he is quite a snoopy fellow?

inquisitive: adj. :
1) having or showing an interest in learning things; curious.
2) Unduly curious about the affairs of others; prying.

inquiring/(chiefly BrE) enquiring: adj. : 1) showing an interest in learning things.
2) (Of a look or expression) suggesting that information is sought.


What I wish you could tell is whether some sort of difference exists in the usage of "inquisitive" and "inquiring" as used in AmE and BrE.

For instance, I was taught when I was in school (where BrE is the norm out here in France) that "inquisitive" has a pejorative connotation to it, a bit similar to "snoopy/prying."

However, quite a few years ago, I was corrected by a couple of Americans in their mid thirties/early forties after using "inquiring" to mean "having/showing an interest in learning things." They told me the appropriate word for that should be "inquisitive," not "inquiring," which, to their perspectives, had a pejorative meaning to it, as in "inquiring eyes staring at you."

Hence my question: is there a US/UK difference to the usage of those terms?

Hope I'm not being too inquisitive (or should I say "inquiring") looking into this.

Best Answer

Being an American of "a certain age", any time I hear the word "inquiring" I immediately think of the National Enquirer ads that were plastered all over US radio and TV in the 80's, with the catchphrase "inquiring minds want to know". The magazine in question was largely sold as an impulse item at supermarket checkout lines, and was chock full of attention-grabbing ridiculous stories. Sort of a pre-web version of clickbait.

I believe the ads were an attempt to rehabilitate the image of their brand, which failed spectacularly. It became a huge joke, particularly on the late night TV circuit. Today, we'd call it a meme. The phrase became a roundabout way of calling someone stupid. But it was such a huge meme, the Enquirer kept with it for publicity's sake (if anybody in the world understands the sales value of a meme, believe me it is the folks running tabloids). They even trademarked the phrase in 1987.

So if you say "inquiring minds" to a US person, they will likely think you are talking about stupid or shallow people. The kind who might purchase and actually believe and get excited about articles in a cheap supermarket tabloid. That's almost certainly why you got "corrected".

For that reason, I don't think the word "inquiring" has been used for its original meaning in the USA much in the last 30 years. Perhaps that will start to change, now that we have an increasing amount of younger people who didn't have that phrase beaten into their heads.

"Inquisitive" of course didn't suffer from use in such an ad, and I believe mostly has positive connotations in the US.