How do some words alter their meaning? Or, at the very least, drop to a lower-rated definition?

I read something somewhere saying that people don’t tend to appreciate a compliment along the lines of “You look fine,” because “fine” is understood to mean something along the lines of “just ok”.

But if you read through the definitions, this doesn’t come into play till #11, so surely the ACTUALLY complimentary “of superior quality” at the top of the list should get more play?


1. Of superior quality, skill, or appearance: a fine day; a fine writer.

2. Very small in size, weight, or thickness: fine type; fine paper.

3.a. Free from impurities.
b. Metallurgy Containing pure metal in a specified proportion or amount: gold 21 carats fine.

4. Very sharp; keen: a blade with a fine edge.

5. Thin; slender: fine hairs.

6. Exhibiting careful and delicate artistry: fine china.

7. Consisting of very small particles; not coarse: fine dust.

8.a. Subtle or precise: a fine difference.
b. Able to make or detect effects of great subtlety or precision; sensitive: has a fine eye for color.

9. Trained to the highest degree of physical efficiency: a fine racehorse.

10. Characterized by refinement or elegance.

11. Satisfactory; acceptable: Handing in your paper on Monday is fine.

12. Being in a state of satisfactory health; quite well: I’m fine. And you?

13. Used as an intensive: a fine mess.

Or does it come down to emphasis? Because there is a COMPLETELY different focus on the word if you say it with a low-voiced shrug or a higher-pitched, stretched-out I-sound. šŸ˜‰

So, if you read the line “You look fine” in a story, with no narrative attached, what would be your first thought? Would you hear/see the low-voiced shrug “insult” or the higher-pitched, stretched-out I-sounding “compliment”?


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