Maybe soothing phrases come out of unsoothing times, or maybe it's just coincidence that I started noticing the phrase "you're fine" being substituted for "no problem," or "no worries," or "That's okay!" several months ago. I was in the vestibule of my gym, where people take off hats and coats and change their shoes, and there was a crowd, as usual, due to people leaving one class as others arrived for another. That's when it happened: I noticed that I was blocking someone, and I scooted over to let them by. I also said "Sorry!" and got my very first — or at least, first in memory — "you're fine."
There's not really an appropriate response to "you're fine" — "you're correct, I am fine!" — so I just smiled and grabbed my stuff and left.
Then it happened again. And again. It was like seeing Ugg boots for the first time and suddenly noticing them everywhere. In fact, maybe "you're fine" is the Ugg boot of apology responses: soft, bland but inoffensive, not very good in the snow. (Unless "no worries" is the Ugg boot of such phrases, because, you know, both are from Australia.)
I couldn't decide how I felt about "you're fine." On one hand, it seemed perfectly nice. I want to be fine. Fine is fine! But then, fine is just fine, not great or special or lovely. And who is this relative stranger to tell me I'm fine? Maybe I'm NOT fine!
On the other hand, "no problem" is plagued with issues, at least according to curmudgeons who does not truck with such informality, and "no worries," while great with an Australian accent, always sounds a bit odd coming off my tongue. (For some reason it works in email or text, where "you're fine" would play as odd or perhaps dismissive.)
I took to the internet, land of answers (right and wrong) to find out more. Urban Dictionary was, as usual, little help. I was happy to see the question of "you're fine" tackled on a Quora page, but mostly I just learned that people really hate it when someone says "no problem" after someone else says thank you, which I personally have no problem with.
In the real world, a.k.a. on my Facebook page, I also found an array of "you're fine" haters. "It feels like it's answering a question that wasn't asked," one person explained. Another — who thinks the expression is distinctly millennial, probably originating with the Kardashians — despised it thoroughly: "I hate, hate, hate 'you're fine.' It belies entitlement. It's like you're saying, 'There is a certain level of treatment I expect from people at all times, but don't worry, you are still on good terms with me. You're fine.'"
I was provided a bevy of other linguistic go-tos for an awkward encounter, and sometimes even reasons for the preferences: "no problem"; "it's all good"; "no worries"; "I'm sorry"; "it happens" — with a smile; "s'okay"; and, weirdest of all, "hmmm."
It turns out that what you say when someone apologizes was a psychological check-in for many, an apology-Rorschach of sorts, particularly for the excessive sorry-ers: "Okay, this thread is making me realize I might be a pushover, because I *always* say 'no, that was my fault, I'm sorry!'" said one. "Sometimes I say 'my bad' like maybe I was in the way in the 1st place?" offered another. A third weighed in: "I say sorry, too. The whole 'sorry' thing is so loaded as you know, but when I say it it's more like 'I'm sorry this situation happened and one or both of us was inconvenienced' rather than using the word to admit guilt or responsibility…"
Perhaps "you're fine" has sprung up as a reaction to acknowledged sorry-overuse, when there's no need to apologize for something that was an accident and unintentional in the first place. There's plenty of other, more important stuff to be "sorry" about, right? It also puts the person to whom supposed harm has been done in charge of expressing their own emotions, making it direct rather than simply reactive. In a time in deep autonomy, it kinda makes sense.
For some, it came from a place of kindness. One Facebook friend explained, "I think "you're fine" is my normal response. Usually, the person is jumpy and trying to quickly get out of the way. I think in my head it's a way to let them know to be calm and not rush to move." Another said, "Relatedly, our son with autism was making sounds on the subway and generally being rambunctious, and this lady looked at me and said, 'You're fine' and I could have melted with gratitude …"
Freelance journalist Nona Willis Aronowitz is a self-professed "you're fine"-r, an expression she thinks hails from the West Coast (Kardashian or otherwise). "I hear it in L.A.," she says. "In the last 5 years it's come into my life and I've fully embraced it." Maybe it's a match for sunny weather and convertibles, because "I think it's such a perfect way to assuage any feeling of social awkwardness or discomfort as opposed to a rote 'it's okay.' It's so affirmative, so warm and lovely. When somebody says 'you're fine' to me it makes me feel so good, all is right with the world. It's the equivalent of patting someone on the shoulder."
Of course, some people hate that, too. But if you're saying "you're fine," you're probably … fine.