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Food for Thought: half-decent - The Autobiography of Russell — LiveJournal
Life from a different perspective
Food for Thought: half-decent
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legolastn From: legolastn Date: July 8th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I say food/drink was half-decent I'm usually either being positively sarcastic (meaning the food was actually quite good/decent) or saying that it was more than "edible" but not my favorite (good but not great, missing one or more key qualities that would have put it over the top, etc). In the latter case I guess "decent" is actually a stand-in for something more like "perfection" or "delicious." It could be argued that "half-decent" and "decent" have actually become synonyms in this usage. Because of its common usage, perhaps, it seems to me something that is described as "half-decent" actually sounds better than something "half-delicious" (in this latter case it sounds like some aspect was actually horrible or something went horribly wrong half-way through eating it, for example).

I suppose the same goes for other consumable goods. You're saying it is good/adequate but missing a "certain something." If I say a movie was half-decent, I mean it was at least mildly entertaining or a good romp but not something I'd necessarily need to see again and certainly not something I'd consider buying for myself, for example. So what I really literally mean is that it was decent. Again, though, if I were to say it were a "half-great" movie I think someone would get a different idea, such as that the first or last halves were particularly bad and the rest was particularly good.

I think both of the counter examples point to something about "half-decent" suggesting more of an evenness in quality - consistent blandness rather than peaks and/or valleys, perhaps? (At least to me.)

With prices I think a similar idea applies. To say the price is half-decent means that it is better than "regular/retail" and makes me consider taking advantage of the price but maybe still not enough of a discount to convince me to buy it (although, again, it could also be a sort of positive sarcasm of saying "this is actually a really great price"). I guess whether this meets the standard of decent depends in part on whether you think retail prices are decent or indecent. :) But in any case most people want more than a "decent" price - they want a "bargain." So again I think the "half-decent" is roughly equivalent to "decent" or "half-bargain" (or, perhaps more literally "half[way-to-a]-bargain price"). The connotations in a haggling situation seem to me to put you (as a buyer) in a better situation if you say a price is "half-decent" than to say the price is "half-bargain," which perhaps is why it evolved as the usage?
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