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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Ralph’s chair broke today. One minute he said he needs a new pneumatic tube because it is sinking too much when he sits, and the next it just collapsed.

And there are like three weeks in between now and getting a replacement part.

I’m wholly sympathetic. This apartment isn’t exactly rife with comfortable seating spots to work. I do it on the treadmill, or smushed into the beanbag, or ensconced in my crater on the couch. Sometimes I sit at the dining room table, which is the worst, because it’s too high to be a table and too low to be a counter so it’s impossible to sit at a proper height and in the end your arms rub on the edge and you end up with raw elbows, which is actually quite annoying.

For me this is fairly normal but Ralph prefers to sit like a grown up human, so not having a working chair poses a dilemma. I made the appropriate sympathetic noises and sighs, and he said, It’s fine. It’s FIIIIIINE! Fine! Everything is fine. FINE!

He was smiling when he said it but I could tell he was grimacing in his head because fine is the most loaded word in the English language.

Fine usually means anything but fine.

Especially if you are mad at someone about something, and they, suspecting shenanigans, ask everything ok? And you say fine.

Fine means I dare you to ask me again because I’m ready for this fight.

Or if you just had the fight and you’re starting to get bored because the other person just won’t shut up and you know they’re wrong but you’re never going to make them see that, you just say fine.

Which means shut up because you’re wrong even though you’ll never see that.

Fine, in many instances, merely means I get it, now shut up! Someone belaboring a point? Fine! Especially pertinent if you say it twice.

Fine is the thing you say when someone asks how you are and you are not fine.

Think about it. When was the last time you used fine as the dictionary intended? Even if you sort of mean it, you only kind of sort of mean it. You may say I’m fine but what you really mean is I’m good enough for now and besides, it’s not worth getting into.

It can also mean I had a bad day but I’m not in the mood to relive it so let’s just pretend it’s all good and go have a donut.

Sometimes fine means whatever you want. Say, if someone asks you to go out for a burger but what you really want is a pizza. Except maybe you know that the other person had a bad day and it would not be in your best interest to change their trajectory. So you say fine, which means, I don’t want a burger but I’ll eat it if it makes you happy.

Or let’s say you made a pot of chili and ran out of tomatoes so you put in the leftover zucchini instead. And you ask someone what they think and they say it’s fine.

Fine, in this case, does not mean good. It means I will eat it because it’s here but please don’t do that again.

And then if you go to the grocery store to replenish your tomatoes and someone asks you how your shopping trip was, you say fine, which means everyone walked around like zombies in the apocalypse and think they’re the only ones left on earth so why would they move their carts out of the way, but I’m not going to complain about that AGAIN.

Or if someone in the grocery store ran over your foot and was cognizant enough to apologize, you say it’s fine, but what you really mean is if you got your face out of your phone you would have seen me there, but at least you apologized and I don’t want to be rude about it or make you feel any worse than I do right now.

It’s so nuanced.

Quite a useful little word, really. You can attain an elegant economy of language and yet somehow, the person you say it to will know all the things you didn’t say.

Here’s some homework. The next few times you say I’m fine or it’s fine or use the word fine in a sentence at all, even if it’s the only word in the sentence, I want you to think about whether you mean it. I feel like we could write a whole book called The Art Of Being Fine.

And that would be fine.

Photo: this whole thing made me think of the Magic Garden song, which is rather fine and the photo totally makes sense. Assuming you know what I’m talking about.