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It’s not entirely Noah Webster’s fault although with a little effort, he could have avoided the mistake. There were bound to be inaccuracies when he wrote his first dictionary but for them to exist more than 225 years later is pretty amazing, really, and I’m sure the one you’ll find a third of the way through the letter “F” is not the only one. But it’s a biggie.

It’s fine. Literally. The definition of the word “fine”. We women use that word all the time in ways that hardly ever mean what Mr. Webster says it means. According to Webster, “fine” as an adjective means “very good, excellent, with no impurities”. I don’t know about you, but when I say I’m fine, that’s not what I’m saying at all.  Food for thought…

Question: I heard about the break-up. How are you doing? Answer: I’m fine. Real Answer: I’ve had nothing but Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked Frozen Yogurt for the past 10 days but until Kmart has a sale on Joe Boxer sweats, I’ll just wear this caftan. And all these stray cats in my apartment are giving me a rash.

Question: Honey, I invited Bart and his new wife, Bitsy, to dinner tonight. But no fats, carbs, grains, dairy or meat because she’s got a photo shoot tomorrow. Can you whip something up? Answer: That’s fine. Real Answer: Unfortunately, since I’m not possessed by Martha Stewart and the only things in the fridge not on that “no can eat” list are lettuce, baking soda, and Fresca, I hope a plate of foaming greens will be fine with her. Pick up a bottle of wine on your way home, please; I’ll need it.

Question: I told the client you’d have that manual written by Monday. Don’t forget it needs to be translated into Portugese, Mandarin, Swahili and Braille. Is that a problem? Answer: It’s fine. Real Answer: What manual?

I suspect that Noah wasn’t the only dictionary author in the Webster household and some day another version will turn up, written by his wife or maybe one of his six daughters. And under the heading for the word “fine”, all it will say is “use as needed.” Because that’s how we chicks roll.


When I use “fine,” for example when I am slamming stuff around in the kitchen while my husband asks from the couch how I am doing, what I usually mean is “don’t push me, bub, I can barely control the urge to hurl this frying pan into your HDTV as it is.” Other times, when acquaintances greet me (usually at the grocery store where I am shopping for food I will be slamming around later) with “How are you?” I might use the word “fine” to stand in for “I really don’t have time to go into it right now.” Normally I give honest replies to that question, which can take awhile, but hey, they asked, right? Webster’s definition now seems only to apply when “fine” is used to describe things like china–which, by the way, doesn’t slam well AT ALL. 

What I have noticed is how differently men use the word. I gave up asking the question, “How do I look?” long ago, because that way lies madness, but when a guy answers “fine,” he either means 1) on an academic scale, B+ or above; really much closer to Webster than you’d think, or 2) “Woman, we are late, and there isn’t anything we can do about it now, so let’s go.” When women hear the word “fine” as an assessment of their appearance or, for instance, cooking, she hears 1) well, it isn’t a total failure–but that could mean anything from a D- up, or 2) I can’t be bothered to give you a thoughtful answer because I am not really interested. It is not surprising that she’s slamming things around and he has taken refuge on the couch. We don’t need a dictionary, we need a translator.