Have you ever been speaking to someone, asked them how they are, just for them to respond with “pretty good”? What the heck does that mean? Are they so vain that as soon as you ask them how they are, they tell you that they’re happy because they’re pretty?
Well, actually, no…
Today, I want to look at what “pretty good” means, where it comes from when you might say it and give a few examples of the phrase.
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What does “pretty good” mean?
In the context of “pretty good”, “pretty” means “fairly” or “relatively”. So to say that you are “pretty good” is to say that you’re doing okay.
How did “pretty” come mean “fairly”?
The word “pretty” meaning “fairly” might seem like a recent idea, but in reality, it goes all the way back to the 16th century.
It evolved from the condescending use of the word “pretty”.
If I were to say, “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it”. I am saying that the matter at hand is far too complex for you, and you are only useful for looking pretty.
This usage of the word, which had previously been a compliment, led to the word “pretty” meaning “sufficient but not amazing”.
Over time, the phrase “pretty good” evolved from this usage of the word.
The word “Pretty” has a kind of strange etymology.
In Dutch, the word “prettig” means sportive/funny. Which is related but different to the English word “pretty”, meaning physically attractive.
In Middle English, the word was “pratie” which meant cunning. In Old English, it was “proettig”, also meaning cunning.
But back when we spoke Proto-Germanic, it was “Pratt”, meaning tricky.
So the word has meant sportive, funny, cunning, tricky, beautiful, and fairly. Talk about homophones!
In the 1400s, the word took on the meaning most of us know it for today- fine/pleasing.
When to use “pretty good”
“How are you?”
One time you might want to use the phrase “pretty good” is when somebody asks you how you’re doing.
In England, we have a habit of always saying we’re fine. Even when we’re not. In these kinds of circumstances, “pretty good” is helpful as it conveys what we want to get across, that we’re doing well.
We have no need to go into details or exaggerate how well we are. If we are not doing awfully, then we are doing “pretty good”. This is the kind of conversation that British people will have at least 5 times in an average day.
“How is it?”
Another time you might use the phrase “pretty good” is when you’re eating and someone says, “how is it?”.
Let’s say you’re eating in a chain pub such as Wetherspoons. You’re not going to say, “wow! This is amazing!” But it’s nice enough for you to eat. You would say something along the lines of “pretty good” to show that while the food is not the best you’ve ever eaten, it is the kind of thing you were expecting, so at least you’re not disappointed.
You might also say it when you try a new food for the first time.
“Pretty good chance”
And the third example of when you might use “pretty good” is when something has a “pretty good chance”.
If your win is not guaranteed, but also far from impossible, you may say that you have a “pretty good chance of winning”. This is a good balance between optimism and realism.
For example, if you put your name forward for a promotion, but someone just as qualified as you also puts their name forward. You can say that you have a “”pretty good chance of getting the promotion”. Although, so does the colleague you are competing against.
Why “pretty good” is better than “great”
I would actually argue that “pretty good” is a better response in the previous circumstances than “great”.
Unlike the Americans, we Brits tend to like to keep things modest. Something that would be “quite nice” for a brit might be”amazing” for an American. If a British person were to say they were doing “great”, it would usually either mean they are really struggling or just want to sell you something.
If you say to the guy in Wetherspoons that your food is “great”, he probably thinks you may have had a rough day. If you say that you have a “great” chance of winning, you sound pompous and stuck up.
Examples of “pretty good” in some sentences
“No one could ever mistake this song for being from any time in history than the one that it was in , but it was a pretty good eighties arena anthem.”
“So, then it stands up to reason that they should give a gift that is pretty good for the amount of money.”
“There once was a pretty good student who sat in a pretty good class , and was taught by a pretty good teacher who always let pretty good pass.”
“The little better than pretty good . Thegh or a little better than pretty good tool must do all that man can good tool must do all that man can good .”
Pretty Good Privacy
You may have heard the phrase “pretty good” in a more commercial environment with the company “pretty good privacy”.
For those of you who don’t know too much about this kind of thing, “pretty good privacy” is a brand of encryption software. It’s designed to protect your data and keep you safe online, essential for the age of technology that we live in.
Next time you ask someone how they are and they tell you that they’re “pretty good”, you know you will have a better idea of what they’re talking about and what they mean.
The English language is filled with phrases like these that sound like they mean one thing but actually mean something completely different.
“pretty good” does not mean that you are doing good because you know you’re pretty. It does, in fact, mean that you are doing okay, but you’re not over the moon about anything.
It’s interesting to think about the kind of language that we use all the time, as understanding our own language will help us communicate better.