Not At All Pretty #socs

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.

When it’s used as an adverb, it’s a weasel word. Wikipedia associates it with tergiversation, the use of weasel words to avoid making an assertion. Take this conversation, for example:

“Did you finish the project?”
“Pretty much.”

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.”

“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.


Stream of Consciousness Saturday is brought to you by Linda Hill and sponsored by Rice-A-Roni, The San Francisco Treat!

26 thoughts on “Not At All Pretty #socs

  1. I’m all for honesty when answering, “How are you?” if you can answer it in five seconds or less. If I say you are a pretty good guy, it would mean I think a lot more of you, than Rice a Roni, which I would say is ok. That’s my SOC comment. 🙂


    1. There was a disk jockey in Chicago who used to answer the question “How are you?” with “About average,” and a boss who would reply “Terrible.” There’s a couple of terse answers for you… XD


  2. Love the joke. I never thought about weasel words before, but I think I’m going to be listening for them from that guy some people call the President-elect. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can sing the Rice A Roni jingle in my sleep. It’s okay to tell me I’m pretty, although as Willy Dunne Wooters has put it, “When we go out, I always have the most beautiful woman in the room on my arm.” That’s only one of the reasons he’s a keeper.



  4. John, I’d never heard that the word “pretty” is a weasel word but it sorta makes sense. I enjoyed reading the explanation and usage. Now, I’m going to think about what I’ve learned here today every time someone answers me, “I’m doing pretty well or I’m pretty much done”. Just for the record, I don’t mind at all being called pretty and see it as a compliment. 🙂


  5. My cousin and I use to joke about the Rice A Roni commerical’s claim that it was a San Francisco treat since we are native San Franciscans and The City is renowned for fine dining and Rice A Roni, although convenient, would not fit into the category of San Francisco treat in our book. Not even pretty close. 🙂


  6. I try to avoid using “pretty” but it’s so ingrained in my speaking and writing that it’s difficult to avoid. As far as a reference to a woman’s appearance, I always think of the quote that is attributed to Victor Hugo: God makes a woman beautiful, the Devil makes her pretty. I guess I read that quote when I was in high school and it’s stuck with me ever sense.

    Bennett Cerf–lol–I used to have some of his joke books that I got from the Doubleday Book Club. Fun memories.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


    1. We watch reruns of “What’s My Line?” from the Fifties, and he was one of the regular panelists along with Dorothy Kilgallen (who’s from the South Side of Chicago, Canaryville specifically) and Arlene Francis. I had a children’s joke book he wrote; one of the jokes was “What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock eater.” I thought it was hilarious.


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