“For a given value of ‘fine’.”

Today my friend Bryan Gale made a couple of amusing tongue-in-cheek tweets about indie game development:

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My first thought on seeing these was “…for a given value of ‘fine’.”.

I didn’t know why that popped into my head, but I was sure it was a reference to something and thought it was an OK comment so I tweeted it as a reply.

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Now, actually this is a pretty lame reply because “fine” meaning “not fine at all” is already the joke Bryan made. It kinda looks like I didn’t get the joke and have now just made the exact same one. But worse.

Oh well. There’s something more important than that.

It’s that I’d used this as though it was well-known, but my immediate next thought was “Wait, where does that phrase come from? Why do I think it’s famous, and why on earth do I think people will ‘get’ the reference if I can’t even remember it myself?”.

It took a moment of unpacking but I realised I knew the line from a 2011 documentary featuring Terry Pratchett, called “Choosing To Die”. It is a pretty disturbing programme in many ways but also full of humour and quite educational on the issues and options surrounding euthanasia. I recommend giving it a watch, if you haven’t seen it already. The full documentary is currently on Daily Motion:

The line is said around the 54:35 mark. It is right near the end and in a particularly intense scene, so I advise against jumping to that point before having seen the rest of the programme.

Anyway… What I learned today is that this remark by Terry Pratchett used the same format as in his book Making Money, where it is applied in the thoughts of the character “Moist von Lipwig”.

There were about a dozen people working there, if you included the golem, whom Moist had learned to think of as part of a species to be treated as ‘human for a given value of human’.

“For a given value of” is a common phrase in Maths and Science and, as Pratchett shows, useful in other contexts, humorously/ironically. I think it would be a stretch to call its use a Pratchettism but I certainly think of him when I hear or say it, which is a fair bit.