All well and good

Posted by Word Camel on March 11, 2005

In Reply to: He done good. posted by Smokey Stover on March 11, 2005

: : : : : : : In the UK we often believe that praise in the US can be described as 'he done good'. Whether this is true or not, some football managers mimic this and describe a player who's had a fine game by saying 'the boy's done good'. However, the great majority of UK English speakers would say 'the boy's done well', since there is a fundamental difference between the two expressions. 'Do well' is to excell at a task. 'Do good' is to perform some worthwhile action, such as a charitable act.
: : : : : : : So, is our UK perception of US 'good' correct? If so, how is the charitable meaning of 'good' expressed?

: : : : : : What you've observed is the classic American streak of anti-intellectualism, anti-snobbism, anti-elitism. If reminded, the coach would likely acknowledge that he knows the rules of grammar and usage, but doesn't care to be fenced in by them. Many Americans regard correct speech as effeminate, elitist, fussy, uptight, and suspicious. We're agin' it. In rural areas, good grammar is Big City Pretension. In the South, it's Yankee snobbery, and likely to get you accused of being high-falutin' or forgetting your roots. If you're black, you'll be accused of being Not Black Enough if you speak Standard American dialect. If you're from Texas, and stumble over words, you'll be regarded as a good ol' boy, the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with, a "plain-speking" fellow, and not be thought of as a moron at all.

: : : : : I'm struck by how rarely, if ever, "well" is used instead of "good". I believe many people here don't know the grammar. I hear it all the time among well educated "east-coast" types. This may stem from anti-intellectualism which shapes the way we educate students. It may have started as an affectation, but I genuinely believe most Americans think the two are interchangable.

: : : You may well be right (I was tempted to type "you may good be right") regarding "he did well" and "he did good" ... but when you arrive at "he done good," surely the verb takes it into the realm of gaining street cred by flouting grammar. On the other hand, Americans seem utterly oblivious to the difference between "less" and "fewer," so it may be one or two generations too late to assume anything.

: : An expression I've heard once in a while is "to do well by doing good". This is often applied to corporations who generate revenue while establishing charities, going green, etc. But the phrase is meaningless to anyone who thinks the two words are interchangeable.

: "My fellow Americans. . . " Yes, those who have responded to Dr. Briggs quest for clarity are all Americans, as am I. But I respectfully beg to differ from them regarding the phrase "He done good." Almost everyone who says it is trying to be whimsically humorous, facetious perhaps, as they are when saying "Say it ain't so," or "Ain't it the truth." I think the motivation here is not to belittle or make any point by using ungrammatical English, but to spice up, in a tiny way, an obviously banal remark or response. Another such phrase might be, "Who, me? I ain't done nuthin'." Yes, there are uneducated people who talk like that, but when educated people do so it is not to poke fun at those less schooled--in my humble and often erroneous opinion. SS

I think you're right about the specific use of expressions like "you done good". And actually I have no problem with them. In retrospect, I think I took the question of well and good and ran with it. I just get so tired of always hearing "good" substitured for "well". "How did you do?" "Good." "How are you?" "I'm good." It's another one of my peave pets.