A Fine Word

A Fine Word

In one of my language classes the students and I chuckled at a cartoon showing a large pile of trash next to which was a sign that read “Fine for Dumping.”

‘Fine’ isn’t the only word in our wonderfully rich and confusing language that has multiple and unrelated meanings, and the two meanings suggested above are not the only ones attributed to it. We have lots of words with which to express ourselves and most of us are using only a dollop of our individual lexicons; now and then we propel ourselves into a Vocabulary Improvement project from which we emerge, at best, with one or two words that we might actually use. After a few days of trying to fit the new words into old habits we’re back with ‘awesome’ and ‘great’.

In keeping with the sense of seeking simplicity that is invading my world these days, I’ve noticed in some of my reading the use of basic, no frills, plain language with basic, no frills, plain words. A Hemingway-esque writing style, yes? And I’m liking some of these clean, crisp words.

‘Fine’ is one of them. Here are just a few of the meanings that my American Heritage Dictionary attributes to it:

– Of superior quality, skill, or appearance;

– Most enjoyable; pleasant;

– Subtle or precise;

– Of refined manners, elegant;

– Having no clouds; clear.

How bright and cheery are these definitions! How lovely to be fine! How rarely do we hear these ‘fines’ in action!

Nowhere in the dictionary is offered the ‘fines’ we most often hear:

– “I don’t care” as in “You don’t want to come to my party? Fine!”


– “Barely acceptable” as in “His ideas were fine, I guess…”

Can this word be saved? Let’s bring ‘fine’ out of the gloom, polish it off a bit and let it be pleasant and elegant – and refined.

The reward? A fine presentation.

Not trying? There should be a fine.