query on usage (a not quite clear result)

Victor aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 22 23:18:58 UTC 2009

If the context is health only, I would take it to mean--today--as an
ironic expression that someone is physically doing OK, but not quite
well in the head. When the context is mixed, one can refer to health the
other to wealth--not quite sure which is which. Perhaps it's just my
wacky sense of humor...


ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
> Maybe means 'pretty well but not quite well well'--ie, ' things are OK for him but he is having small health problems '?
> ------Original Message------
> From: Joel S. Berson
> Sender: ADS-L
> To: ADS-L
> ReplyTo: ADS-L
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] query on usage (a not quite clear result)
> Sent: May 22, 2009 4:18 PM
> What is the question?  Usage in 1815?  Usage today?
> Joel
> At 5/22/2009 11:24 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> I was struck by this line in Jane Austen's _Emma_ (1815):  "pretty
>> well but not quite well".  The larger context is:
>> "Oh! good Mr. Perry- how is he, sir?"
>> "Why, pretty well; but not quite well. Poor Perry is bilious, and he
>> has not time to take care of himself."
>> For my intuitions of what is natural in contemporary U.S. English,
>> this is not a possible utterance, given what "pretty X" and "not
>> quite X" convey.  If "quite" really just meant 'wholly, completely'
>> even in negative contexts (as the OED entry suggests), this should be
>> possible, as indeed are
>> "He's pretty well, but not completely/totally well"
>> For me these are impeccable, with natural stress falling on
>> "completely/totally"--but such stress on "quite" doesn't help for me
>> with "pretty well but not quite well", and indeed stressing "quite"
>> in a sequence of "not quite [Adjective]" often seems  Is my judgment
>> here  idiosyncratic?  A google search of this sequence, not
>> surprisingly, pulls up many hits for the line from Emma and various
>> irrelevant ones like "pretty well, but not quite well enough", which
>> is fine for me.  I'm not sure this is conclusive, though, since there
>> are no hits at all for the "completely" or "totally" counterparts
>> above, which as noted I find impeccable.
>> Of course YMMV, but that's why I'm posting.
>> LH

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list