The word “fine” has become so overused as to be meaningless. It’s often used in a way that means things are definitely not fine, they’re either bad or mediocre. Being more honest and precise with our language and less passive aggressive with its use will benefit everyone.
The word “fine” traditionally means something is excellent or at least of superior quality (though it can also mean paying a sum of money as punishment for doing something wrong).
Anyone with a teenage child knows that when asked about how a day was, or how things are going, “fine” as a response could mean excellent, ordinary or really bad. What it mostly communicates is that, for whatever reason, the teen doesn’t want to talk about it.
It’s the same with adults. We may say “fine” a lot, and we may or may not mean things are going really well. More likely we need to do something, our hearts really aren’t into, or we may not have the time or resources necessary to do what should be a better job. The result is “fine.”
We may be apathetic, and we’ve done what we could, or wanted to do, and the end result is passable. It may not just be you. Whoever you did the work for may also be willing to accept “fine” work that gets the job done well enough.
In her blog Signal v. Noise, Claire Lew discusses that it is not just the sullen teen saying things are fine, but it’s her Ph.D./engineer father using the word “fine” when she asked him about his work. Over the years he changed jobs and industries which required Lew to move from place to place and school to school, something she grew tired of doing. When she started her own professional life, she asked herself how things were going and found herself responding, “It’s fine,” and started laughing.
Lew started her own business, that she now heads, and when she talks to employees and clients if she hears “fine,”
To me, “fine” is the ultimate indicator of apathy and discontent. “Fine” means a standard is barely being met. “Fine” means there’s the potential for something to be better. “Fine,” says there’s more to learn and dig into. “Fine” never means “things are fine.”
Kat Boogaard, in her piece in The Muse, writes that since “fine” can mean just about anything, we need to rely on tone and context to try to figure out whether someone means a situation is acceptable or just wants to give you criticism that the situation needs improvement. To get to the bottom of things, ask follow up questions, ask for feedback and clarify whether the person’s needs are met.
When you talk to your clients about their cases and how they think things are going and you hear “fine” you may want to dig a little deeper to see what’s really going on. If you’re the one saying “fine” maybe bite your lip and take a moment to come up with something more descriptive and helpful. The word has become a crutch that you don’t need to use.