It dawned on me during a recent trip across the pond how many different words our US cousins use when asked how they are, how they rate something and to describe anything in general. The English have just one and that’s fine. No, literally, I mean it. Everything is “fine”.
Let us look, for example, at the standard greeting that most of us throw casually at each other. “How are you?”. Simple enough. This person would like to know how you are. The American response can range from “Awesome!” to “Super-excited!” and anything else from a spectrum of fabulous emoting. The English will only ever have one response. They are “fine”.
Let us look into this a little further include some translations for those not familiar with the myriad meanings of “fine” in the English English language.
If you were to ask an Englishman how his poor sick aunt is, he will reply “oh, she’s doing fine”.
TRANSLATION: “My aunt coughed up her left lung last night, fell out of bed, broke both her hips, swallowed her own toes and is now so close to popping her clogs that the hospital staff have The Grim Reaper on speed dial.”
In an argument between two lovers, the English female will end the confrontation with one word – “fine”. It may seem to the outsider that she has just agreed to the male’s point of view and that he now has permission to do the thing that sparked the disagreement in the first place.
TRANSLATION: “I dare you to watch football on our anniversary/go to a strip club/have drinks with your ex. It will result in a world of pain and absolutely no sex for the rest of your life”.
Equally, if you ask an English girl who has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp if she’s ok, she will defensively insist “I’m fine!!!”.
TRANSLATION: “I’m anything BUT fine and it’s up to you to guess what awful thing you’ve done wrong, with no clues, and then do everything within your power to rectify this mysterious misfortune.”
Conversely, should you happen upon an English lad looking rather perky and clearly labouring under the effects of a new romance, ask him how it’s going. “Yeah, fine” will be the reply.
The press have pretty much given up reporting on Lotto wins un the UK. It’s hardly front page news when Mr and Mrs English announce that they felt “fine” on hearing that they’d just won £1,000,000 and celebrated by making a nice cup of tea
I think that both US and UK counterparts will agree that “fine”, when used in conjunction with food and wine means that these consumables are of the highest quality but imagine the following scenario. The Englishman orders himself a juicy T-bone steak, medium-rare with béarnaise sauce on the side. The waiter brings over a cold piece of charred cow’s eyelid, drenched in cheap mayonnaise. Noting the look of mild horror on our Englishman’s face, the waiter asks of everything is ok with the meal. The response? “It’s fine”.
TRANSLATION: “Clearly this plate of incinerated offal is far from what was ordered but I shall choke it down my retching gullet anyway and wish a plague of herpes upon you and your offspring. Obviously I won’t do the sensible thing of returning this platter of dog vomit to the kitchen because that would be akin to proposing a duel with swords in the woods at dawn.”
There is of course the parental “fine”. This only applies once you’ve left home and are a free range adult, gallivanting around the world and making your very own brand of terrible mistakes. Tell your English mother that you’re jetting off for a weekend in Amsterdam with someone you met last night. Mother will purse her lips into the form of a dog’s bottom, raise one perfectly arched eyebrow and utter a clipped “fine”.
TRANSLATION: “I’m acknowledging that I have heard you say something. I do NOT like what you just said. I know full well that this will end in either tears, pregnancy or a horrific plane crash but I’m not going to spark a family argument that could affect which retirement home you consign me to.”
Oddly enough, the one time when the English abandon “fine” and become alarmingly articulate and creative in their use of language is when it comes to the weather. We pretty much only have one type of weather here in the UK, it just comes in varying shades of grey and yet the Brits, when asked what the weather is like, will happily wax lyrical for hours and hours about the many deep levels of hatred that exist for this atmospheric abomination that we suffer on a daily basis, oh and how many ways do we suffer!!! Suddenly you’re wishing things were just “fine”.