Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wicked Woman*

Today's (syndicated) New York Times crossword puzzle included the following clue: 45 & 46 (Down) - Quite bad; the corresponding answers were PRETTY AWFUL.  This entry generated some commentary from the regular contributors to a blog devoted to the puzzle, including this from @Z: "PRETTY AWFUL is an interesting construction to consider (how did 'pretty' become a word that adds emphasis? 'Awful' as in god-like or as in terrible? Maybe Hera would be the embodiment of PRETTY AWFUL? It's just kind of weird)."

All of which started me to thinking about emphatic words and phrases that I use or hear regularly but which might strike anyone "from away" as weird or non-sensical. So in the interest of helping visitors to Maine understand the level of emphasis imparted by figures of speech which locals may use when describing something, here is a primer of terms that may be employed to specify the degree of a particular description:

- "Pretty" may indicate a higher or lower level of degree depending on the context. Something said to be "pretty good" is OK but not up to the highest standards, and something that's "pretty bad" is worse than just bad.  "It's pretty cold out" probably means the weather is not too severe, whereas "It's pretty cold out there, I'll tell ya" indicates more extreme conditions.

- "Plenty" on the other hand is unequivocally higher in degree. "It's plenty cold out there" means it's not just cold, it's really cold. Go outside only if you have to.

- "Some" or "some-ol'" also indicate a higher degree of intensity, so "It's some friggin' cold out" and "It's some-ol' friggin' cold there, Mr. man" both mean you should probably stay inside under any circumstances. "She's some pretty" and "She's some-ol' pretty" are both high compliments to the lady in question. But if her cooking is "some awful" or "some-ol' awful" you should make reservations at a good restaurant.

- "Awful" raises the level of intensity to a whole new level - "I'm sorry" may be a sincere apology but "Hey, I'm awful sorry" conveys real regret. "She's an awful good-lookin' woman" means she's drop-dead gorgeous, and "I didn't pay an awful lot for it" means it was pretty cheap.

- "Wicked" is the superlative of modifiers. When none of the others quite convey the extreme condition you wish to impart "wicked" is the word you want. "It's wicked cold out there" means don't even think about going outside. Anything that's "big" is exponentially larger if it's "wicked big", and so on. anytime you're looking for the right word to express something in superlative terms, good or bad, "wicked" is the way to go. Here are a couple of guys who totally get the usefulness of the term and have put it to good use to ensure highway safety:

All of the above terms can be used to great effect in conjunction with the word "massive", but that's a topic for another post.

So "pretty awful" might mean quite bad but "awful pretty" is a whole other story - funny how that works, isn't it?



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