There are very few words in the whole of the English language that I don’t love. I love the shape of words, how they sound in my head and out loud, how they feel in my mouth. I love speaking words and reading words and writing words. Long words, short words, nonsense words, new words (did you know the word “selfie” was invented in Australia?), words that rhyme, fancy words, slang words – and now I am sounding like a Dr Seuss book, so I’ll stop. You get the picture. Words are awesome.
But there’s always one that ruins it.
A tiny four-letter word. A word so apparently meaningless, but so laden with meaning it almost collapses on itself when spoken out loud.
F. I. N. E – Fine.
Awful word. Deceptive. Sly and sneaky.
Right away, it has too many functions: it’s an adjective, a verb, a noun and an adverb. Already having an identity crisis and it hasn’t even been used in a sentence yet! Put yourself somewhere, man, and stick to it.
Then it complicates itself further by having multiple meanings within all those categories: delicate, nice, healthy, bright, clear, polished, good-looking, sharp, pure, elegant, okay, excellent, exceptional, pleasant… for G-ds sake, find yourself! Say it and move on.
But the biggest problem I have with the word fine is the way I use it, to answer that easy breezy question:
“Hey Nicki, how are you?”
That’s what I say when I am anything but! I am not excellent, I am not bright, not even just okay. When I say I’m fine, I am usually the total opposite of all those things. But I say it. And there it floats, that silly little four-letter word, on a cloud of its own empty white puffiness, drifting benignly for all the world to see.
So then why did I say it? Why say I’m fine, if I’m not?
Usually I say it because I really do want to be “fine.” I want to feel polished and exceptional and bright and shiny – but I don’t, in that moment. So fake it till you make it! If I say it out loud enough, I’ll start to believe it and if I believe it then I’ll be it. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Or I say it because there’s just not enough time as we pass each other in the parking lot for me to tell you how I’m really feeling – your grocery list is too long, and I’m off to my appointment and it feels wonderful that we ran into each other like this, but I’ll just tell you I’m fine because I’m not, and you’ll tell me you’re fine, and maybe next week or next month we’ll grab lunch or a drink and we can tell each other how fine we really are. Because I know you are not asking just to be polite, and that you really do care.
Or maybe you’re asking just to be polite – because it’s the way we greet each other in the western world. And if you didn’t ask me how I am, it would be rude. But I know you don’t want to hear that I’m anything but… fine, so I say I’m fine. I don’t say I’m great (because I’m not feeling great), I don’t say I’m sad or tired or angry (because I’m sure you don’t really want to know that I’m any of those things, and then you might feel you’ll have to ask me why I’m tired or angry and offer to help or something and you have your own not fine-ness to deal with). So I’m fine.
Feelings Inside Not Expressed (acronymfinder.com). Shrug. Smile. Meaningless, but so full of meaning.
The lying and posturing and pretending that all is in order when it’s not… That’s the direct translation of the word “fine” in Hebrew: beseder – in order. Life is seldom “in order,” for any of us. It’s messy and complicated, and we rage and we love and we’re exhausted and happy and hungry and frustrated – and we’re even fabulous or excellent or exceptional. Let’s express!
Full disclosure right here: I’m not going to say it anymore. I really hate the f-word – even more than I hate the m-word!
And that is saying a lot.
*m-word = moist