Friday, December 12, 2008

Yet More Word News

How can we resurrect the word 'fine'? I just received an email from a PR saying 'Okay, fine' and I immediately assumed I had offended her, though I cannot imagine how. 'Fine' has come to suggest either a flounce or something not quite good enough - 'Yes, it's fine' means 'it barely passes muster' or 'I lack the energy to put this horseshit right'.  But this, surely, is not what 'fine' is for; surely is should stand for something wonderful, elegant, superior. You don't agree? Fine.


  1. 'Fine' still means fine in some contexts - eg. "he is in fine form with the bat" - but otherwise is it perhaps a victim of a broader linguistic inflation of evaluation terms?

    eg. "good" means average, "average" means poor and "poor" means terrible. To say something is good you have to say it is "outstanding", "magnificent", "freakin' sweet" etc

  2. I think of REM's 'It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)' which never sounds like much of a 'fine' to me. It's also rather like 'nice' which doesn't seem to mean much of anything. 'Fine' and 'Nice' are words I could probably do without. Rather like 'humus'.

  3. Fine is definitely a flouncy word in my household and to give the full effect needs to be spat from between gritted teeth. On the other hand, with an art-historian hat on, I would use the word quite sparingly.

    Another word I find confusing is 'quite'. Quite good is not very good. Quite magnificent is possibly beyond magnificent.

  4. All fine means to me is the dosh paid to the rozzers for misdemeanour's, "that will cost you three points and sixty quid mate", not even a sir, I note with dismay. Plods nose had an aquiline fineness about it, not at all in keeping with his demeanour which was far from fine.
    "Don't do it again" said the French copper after I went through his radar at an exaggerated rate of knots, he had a finely balanced sense of proportion.

  5. Fine is also one of the highest condition grades in used book appraisal. "Fine" in this context means a book which may lack the crisp, unopened nature of a new book but has no detectable flaws. On eBay people will often say "looks fine" to be "it looks so-so".

  6. The late, great George Carlin covered this years ago:

    " "How are you?"
    "Bullshit! Hair is fine! How's your hair?"
    "Fine!" "

  7. The word "fair" is similarly slippery.

  8. I think you still hear "fine" used well when it's preceded by some version of the verb "to be" and emphasis is placed on it. I think the American South does this better than other regions: "That book was fine," with proper emphasis is quite a compliment. Of course you still hear it preceded by "mighty," as in "She looked mighty fine." Nothing average about that. I agree this word needs to be rescued in more general usage.

  9. I think the only way in text to really communicate distinction is to combine 'fine' with some emoticonography:

    OK, fine. :-)

    OK, fine. ;-)

    OK, fine. :-|


  10. There are lots of words that are used in an ironic sense, as a way of being passive aggressive:


    As in:

    "That's great, just great," etc.

  11. Having Fine as a last name has been a lot of fun. My mother used to answer the question, "How are you?" with the word "swell" to avoid being redundant.

    I always imagined the scene at Ellis Island (or in German ports) where the person from Russia or Romania who doesn't speak very much English or German responds to, "Who are you?" with the answer that would be used for, "How are you?"

    Yup. There are a lot of Fines and Feins around.

  12. ZOMG!! You mean language has nuance and complexity? You mean that words have different meanings and connotations based on tone, context and subtle differentiations?

    How dare people not use words in a straight-forward, banal manner!! How dare they opt for irony, sarcasm or understatement when they can should be only using strict denotation in speech.

    You want it that way?


  13. Brit is (mostly) dead-on. Good (fine?) observation.

    I would add, though, that the meaning of 'fine' depends heavily on context and tone. When the Beatles sang "I Feel Fine," they meant they felt great. (I grew up in another part of the world and spoke little or no English when I first heard that song as a wee boy, but its mood and intent came through loud and clear).

  14. "Just" modifies some words to be sarcastic, for example, "that's *just* great," but I think it restores "fine" to a positive term. "That's just fine if you want to resurrect the word 'fine.'"

  15. You are aware of the existence of internet porn, right?

  16. In African American neighborhoods throughout the US, fine is doing just fine. No help needed from you.

  17. 'Fine', to me, is an acronyme for:

    F'd up
    Neurotic and

    There are far better words to describe one's thoughts or feelings...unless you are in fact 'FINE'.

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