With a shout out to Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, I will use a song lyric of his to start out the week. The whole lyric is “Monday morning, you sure look fine, but Friday I got travelin’ on my mind.”
The word “fine” has a many different uses. In one of my favorite movies about a Scottish hero, “Rob Roy,” played by Liam Neeson, he would tell his wife (played by Jessica Lange) that “you are fine to me, woman.” The meaning which she returned later is you are beautiful to me.
There is an old line that is used that reinforces this belief. “She is so fine, the fine folks call her fine!” I won’t repeat a Richard Pryor line which is quite vulgar, but he responded to a comment, “You wouldn’t know a fine woman if you tripped over her.” Pryor’s line offered a rebuttal to that phrase, but is too colorful for these pages.
Today, it seems when things are “fine,” it means they are OK or slightly better. The usage downplays the meaning, where in the Rob Roy and Lindsey Buckingham examples, they understate beauty or something equivalent. This is one more example where tone and context matter.
The colloquial word “dude” can have multiple meanings depending on the tone. There is cute TV commercial, for an unremembered product, that walks through the multiple definitions of dude ranging from “I can’t believe you just did that” to “That is awesome.” I mention these examples, as my guess is all languages have variable meanings for words depending on when, where and how they are used.
Translation of words and meanings is doubly hard. Slang words often will use an opposite word to mean the same thing. “Cool” is one of those words. “Bad” is another. So, when learning a new language, it makes it difficult. When reading translated text, some of the meaning may be lost.
David Brooks introduced me to a Greek word called “thumos,” which has no counterpart in the English language. It means a sense of recognition and belonging. His context is thumos is the reason kids in school join groups – band, chorus, sports, chess club, etc. It is more than just belonging, it is the recognition they belong. I think this is a key reason we like to learn our ancestry.
So, when a friend walks up to you at a coffee shop, and you say “dude, you look fine,” he may be diminished if you use a monotone, but if you say “Dude…you look fine!” he may be uplifted. The tone matters, but so does the context. If you are in the same group of friends, your language may take on its own meaning leaving others lost in the meaning.
Lindsey Buckingham’s use of “fine” may have altered from Monday to Friday. In other words, the dude was leaving by the end of the week.