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What would be the expression to describe making something "not unpleasant"/"less unpleasant"? Specifically, not making it pleasant (adding comforts) but minimizing the expected discomforts.

Let's say, a convict is being put in prison. The stay will not be pleasant, that much is known, but the guards learn facts that make them feel sympathy for the convict, so given the little wiggle room they have, they will try to make it as non-unpleasant as possible.

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Have you checked a thesaurus? –  Mitch Oct 8 '12 at 21:42
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@Mitch: I'm afraid my grasp of english is not enough to fish out expressions on the "minimally negative" scale as opposed to the "positive" ones (synonyms of pleasant). –  SF. Oct 8 '12 at 21:57
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I think I'd stick with something like some meager kindnesses from the guards made his stay not entirely unpleasant or something like that. –  Jim Oct 8 '12 at 22:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Since 'not unpleasant' is an understatement (litotes), an appropriate counterpart might be:

tolerable.

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Here's a couple of ideas:

  • Gild the pill. Refers to the practice of coating bad-tasting pills with gold to make them easier to swallow.
  • Sugar-coat. Similar connotation as above, coating something that tastes bad with sugar to make the taste more palatable.
  • Beguile. To divert attention away from something unpleasant in order to make it pass more agreeably.
  • Pleasant. The word pleasant itself can be used as a verb.
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+1 for sugar-coat. Even though I don't think sugar-coat would work for the O.P.'s example context (I don't think a guard could sugar-coat a prison stay), there are still many other contexts where sugar-coat would be a great way to express "less unpleasant." –  J.R. Oct 9 '12 at 8:42

Consider

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An idiom: To 'smooth the edges' of something.

common verbs: to make something bearable, to make something passable

adjectives: acceptable, bearable, passable

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Mitch's suggestion of 'tolerable' is spot-on - particularly for the scenario you described.

Other adjectives that suggest "not unpleasant":

  • okay
  • bearable
  • adequate
  • sufficient
  • passable
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You can use

  • endurable
  • livable
  • sufferable

in place of "non un-pleasant".

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