Fine (adverb): in an excellent manner; very well: He did fine on the exams.
In my experience, “fine” is most often to describe how we are feeling, and in those instances I am positive it does not mean very well. I think the common use of this word is a combination of an occasion where people are not aware the true meaning and one where it is actually being used to disguise what they’re truly experiencing.
“How are you?” “I’m fine, and you?”
“How was the test?” “It was fine.”
“How did the funeral go?” “It went fine.”
There are two explanations to these common responses:
A) You’re misusing the word by meaning everything is “eh”. Your experience has not been exceptional, the test was nothing easy but nothing too difficult, and the funeral went as swimmingly as possible without too much of an emotional toll. Everything is OK.
B) You’re using it to conceal the real emotions you would rather not reveal to the person asking the question. You’re not doing well, but you don’t necessarily want to feel obligated to explain what is actually awful about your experience. The test was crappy, but to avoid any accusations of stupidity you dismiss it as “fine”. Lastly, the funeral was probably a mess: uncomfortable, sad, a causation of existential crisis– the exact way funerals are.
Our discussion on Tuesday immediately reminded me of a line from Tennyson, “For words, like nature, half reveal/ And half conceal the soul within”, which I think explains this situation well. Words are meant to tell us something, but the context of how those words are presented are very important. The author’s tone and audience will determine what a word is trying to say, and what it is not. If the audience picks up on the deeper definition of a word, then they will gain a deeper understanding; however, I don’t think that the audience interpreting a word strictly at face-value worsens their experience, I think it simply gives them the information they were looking for and nothing more.