phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Pretty much

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 12, 2008 at 17:49

In Reply to: Pretty much posted by Eryk Satze on July 11, 2008 at 20:43:

: I hear the phrase "Pretty Much" used almost daily...to mean "just about" or "close to" ( in the affirmative, usually ). Could you please tell me the known origin of this phrase? and I will credit you in my next lecture...thanx...

"Pretty much" depends somewhat on the original meaning of pretty, used adverbially to qualify an adverb or an adjective, meaning: to a considerable degree, rather. The Oxford English Dictionary gives examples from the 16th century forward.

Much can be used as an adverb, adjective or noun, but combined with "pretty" is always (or nearly always) used adverbially. The combination means, in the words of the OED, "almost, very nearly; more or less; (also, in early use) very much, considerably." The first example cited by the OED is typical: "1682 N. GREW Anat. Plants vi. 292 Horse-Radish Root is not so Pungent to the Nose, but gets pretty much into the Eyes." Like many adverbs is used rather flexibly, but has acquired its own area of idiomatic usage. Even so, in most cases it could be replaced, without changing the meaning, by pretty nearly, to a considerable degree, much, greatly or one of several other expressions.

In regard to the adverb "pretty," although it is often the equivalent of "very," the expression "pretty good" is often used to contrast with "very good" or "excellent." To be told that your performance is "pretty good" is not exactly a left-handed compliment. But it is about the lowest-grade evaluation that you could call a compliment at all. Sometimes it means "not as bad as I expected."

Why someone decided to combine "pretty" and "much" is one of those unanswerable questions, I believe, although it is not illogical to do so. If you want to credit anyone for what is said here, credit the Oxford English Dictionary.
SS