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There was the following line in a New York Times article (September 17), titled “Rick Perry, Uber Texan”:

“Then he was off to talk some more about economic growth in Texas. And lambastes the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, by saying that he would be treated “pretty ugly” in Texas. Some aides seemed surprised to find this was not regarded as presidential language, since Perry says that kind of thing in Texas all the time.”

I don’t know the idiom, “treat somebody ugly.” Although I guess it means something like beat up (in Texas), or socking a person (Ben Bernanke) on the jaw, what is it in plain English?

Is “Treat somebody ugly” a common and colloquial English phrase that I can use in day-to-day conversation? I’m asking this because the author (Gail Collins) brackets the word “pretty ugly,” in her article, and Perry’s aides were surprised to find the phrase wasn’t regarded as presidential language outside Texas, which suggests the phrase isn't a national currency.

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3 Answers 3

The meaning of ugly here is "rude" or "disrespectful", and it seems to be a Southern US colloquialism. I don't recall hearing it before moving to the South, at least. As @simchona indicates, it can also act as an adverb.

Another meaning for ugly: It does not mean "beat up", though when things get ugly or it gets ugly, someone might get beat up.

("Beat up" itself is another colloquial expression for a similar concept. You might hear someone say "That's beat up, the way he treated her", for example. Its meaning is more like "shabby".)

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It's certainly not common here in the UK.

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Things got ugly means things got so misinterpreted or twisted without intending or purposely making it that way.

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