• pretty •
pri-di, pri-ti • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Adverb
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Somewhere between cute and beautiful, attractive, pleasing, graceful in a delicate way. 2. (Adjective) Considerable, as 'a pretty mess you've gotten us in'. 3. (Adverb) Rather, considerably, moderately, fairly, as 'a pretty good salad'.
Notes: Today's word has been around for a long time and for that reason is most frequently compared in the original way: prettier, prettiest. However, the French method of comparison is creeping into our speech: more pretty, most pretty. The adverb is still prettily and the noun, prettiness. (Down South they metathesize the R and say perti.)
In Play: First the ordinary sense of pretty: "Natalie Cladd came to the party in a pretty made-to-order frock that she picked up at the beach." Now let's try a sentence with today's Good Word in both its adjectival senses: "Phil Anders inherited a right pretty sum from his mother which he promptly squandered on one pretty girl after another."
Word History: We don't know how today's word come to be in English, but we do have a complete history of pretty in English itself. It began in Old English as prættig "cunning, tricky" from the noun prætt "trick". In Middle English we know it was prety "clever, fine, handsome", very close to what it is in Modern English. We do know there must have been some word in Proto-Germanic like pratt- "trick, practical joke", evidenced by Norwegian prette "a trick", Dutch pret "trick, joke" and prettig "sportive, funny", and Flemish pertig "clever". But there would seem to be no trace of the word outside the Germanic languages. (A note of gratitude is due Eileen Opiolka for recommending such a pretty Good Word.)
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