come to a pretty pass


come to a pretty pass


  • a bad situation
  • in a problematic or unfavourable situation
  • encounter or develop into a bad, unfortunate, or difficult situation

Example Sentences

  1. Things have come to such a pretty pass that nowadays parents are afraid of advising their children.
  2. Things come to a pretty pass when a family is drawn into the dispute.
  3. Things have come to a pretty pass when the bank loses $500 million.
  4. Things have come to a pretty pass when it is impossible to get decent literature to read.
  5. Things would have to come to a pretty pass for me to home school my daughter.
  6. Things have come to a pretty pass when one has to stay in lockdown for months during the pandemic.
  7. We have reached a pretty pass when judges endorse that magistrates’ courts should deal with undefended cases.


The oldest printed record of the phrase “come to a pretty pass” can be traced back to 1763 in Love in a Village; A Comic Opera by Isaac Bickerstaffe that reads:

“Hodge. Indeed! Marry come up! Why, then pray let yourself out again. Times are come to a pretty pass; I think you might have had the manners to knock at the door first.”

“Pretty” word is from Old English prættig, “cunning,” from præt “trick” – unrelated to prat “idiot,” which originally referred to the buttocks (hence pratfall: a fall onto the backside).

By the 15th century, pretty described something cunningly made, crafty or clever, which led to its use to express someone gorgeous or attractive – most commonly a female or kid. However, the diarist Samuel Pepys refers to one Dr. Clarke as a “very pretty man.”

Ironic uses of pretty to refer to something unpleasant are the origins of phrases like “pretty pass,” “pretty state of affairs,” and “pretty kettle of fish”; the latter more often found in the phrase “different kettle of fish.” The kettle here isn’t the kind we use to make tea, but rather a large cooking vessel (from Latin catillus ).

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What is the origin of this expression? … fencing, jousting, etc?

‒ Amanda Wilcock March 25, 2021

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