Here’s a joke worthy of Bennett Cerf. For all I know, I got it from one of his joke books:
A man is walking and sees a little girl making mud pies. “Hey, you’re pretty dirty,” he says. She smiles at him and says, “Thank you! I’m even prettier clean!”
“Pretty” is a good adjective:
- “She’s a pretty girl.”
- “That’s a pretty dress.”
For some reason, “pretty” doesn’t work well when you’re talking about a woman over the age of fifteen. “Attractive” works, but “beautiful” might be too much. My favorite adjective in this vein is “gorgeous,” although that might be too much as well. “Pretty” doesn’t fit all the time, although saying a woman has pretty eyes might work. “Pretty” doesn’t work at all with men.
“Did you finish the project?”
Answering with “pretty much” in this case sounds like you’re saying “no,” which is probably more true, but you can’t say that to your manager. So you say “pretty much” and throw it back to them and let them ask the question, “Well, what do you still need to do?” or “What percent still needs to be done?” When you say “pretty much,” you’re really hoping they’ll say “Great! Keep up the good work!” and leave you alone.
Or take this:
“How are you?”
“Pretty good” in this case could mean anything from “I’m doing well” to “My eyes hurt, I have terrible sinus congestion, and I’m constipated.” But we say “pretty good” to avoid making a statement that might get you sent out of town at the last minute, or that might cause the person to say “Great! Organize the spice cabinet!”
I use “pretty” as a weasel word a lot, and I shouldn’t. When someone asks a question like “Did you finish?” I’ll say “No” and explain what needs to be done, and if I feel like death warmed over, I won’t answer the question “How are you?” with “Pretty good.” The world will be a better place.
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