Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fine With Me






"Fine" is one of those multiply deployed words in the language that depend, obviously, on different definitions, connotations, and rhetorical situations but also on slight shifts of tone. You might ask someone, "So, how's it going?" And s/he might say, "Fine," but precisely how the person says "fine" determines the meaning. S/he can say it wearily and, without going so far as irony or sarcasm, s/he can turn the meaning of fine into "not fine." Another tone of voice might suggest that the person doesn't want to reveal how he or she is doing, how it's going, so then "Fine" means "end of inquiry." Anyway, I was thinking about some of this as I fooled around with a poem.



Finery



There's a fine line between
saying there's a fine line
between two things and refusing
to say such a thing. In this case,
"fine" means not "excellent" but
"extremely thin."


Some people say, "Fine, then!"
when they're angry and want
to bring an episode of some kind
to an end, which in Latin is "fine."


In the end, a fine is indeed an
imposition, especially if it costs
a lot of money, as opposed to
being a finely calibrated token.
A fine plus jail-time seems
almost infinitely harsh.


"Finery" refers to clothing,
"refined" to manners,
but "refinery" to petroleum
and such. It's as if at some crucial
linguistic moment, someone said,
"Fine, then!" and the denotations
went their separate ways. Go
figure. Better yet, cut a fine figure;
the latter seems to refer to beauty,
not to cutting. "She's so fine,"
I remember some men saying,

of women, in the semi-fine
decade of the 1970s. I cannot
remember the last time I heard
anyone say "fine and dandy,"
and I'm perfectly fine with that.
*
Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom
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