"Potted history" was defined nicely in this previous question. It seems that it is quite a British English phrase, though. Would its use in a US English book be comprehensible by the majority of US readers? If not, what phrase would be suitable? The writing is somewhat formal, i.e., a popular, non-fiction book.

Here's a sample sentence: "Weikart gives a potted history of eugenics, linking it to the study of evolution, and mentions some of the areas of more recent research that need to be considered ethically."

Would a US reader be able to figure out the meaning from the context? Would it pull them out of the reading or distract them? What alternatives would people recommend? Brief history, as suggested in the comments is good. The other question suggested cliff notes, but I think that will be unfamiliar out side the US.

  • 1
    Please provide a sample sentence showing how you want to use the word.
    – Phil Sweet
    May 10, 2017 at 23:27
  • In AmE, you could just use a brief history.
    – 1006a
    May 10, 2017 at 23:56
  • Are you saying that an American reader would not follow the example sentence I gave, or that they would think it too informal? Brief history doesn't have the same slightly derogatory connotation.
    – Dr Xorile
    May 10, 2017 at 23:59
  • 7
    The use of "potted" in that sense is unfamiliar to me (as a native US English speaker).
    – Hot Licks
    May 11, 2017 at 0:01
  • Yes, what @HotLicks said. I think I've heard it before, but I'd need to look it up to be sure what it meant and the only connotation it carries is "vaguely British".
    – 1006a
    May 11, 2017 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


The oldest use of the term "potted history" that I see off hand is in the American magazine The Galaxy, September 1873, in an article by American George Edward Pond writing under the fake name Phillip Quilibet:

If I skip the lad's measures and tidbits of potted history...

So it isn't necessarily a British phrase.

Recently there was an article A potted history Nature 525, S10–S11 (24 September 2015), about pot!

My guess would be about 0.5% of Americans would know what "potted history" means. I definitely never heard of it.

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