Good on You.

Lucy Ferriss reports for Lingua Franca on one of the imports that’s making inroads in the US:

Ask a person of a certain age, and they will probably tell you that Good on you is Australian slang, pronounced and emphasized mostly as Good ON ya. In fact, apparently in some parts of Australia the expression can be neatly shortened to Onya! Ask a younger person, though, and you’ll hear a distinction that has nothing to do with nationality or region and everything to do with intent.

If I back up my own timeline to, say, 20 years ago, I would have said to my husband, “Good for you!” I would have used the same expression if he had come home with the news that he had won the raffle at an office party. In other words, I would have said “Good for you!” to mean either “Well done!” or “How lucky!” When I spoke to a couple of millennials this week about Good on you, they confirmed what I suspected: These two meanings have now taken different paths. The appropriate response to my husband’s clever footwork on the downhill path would be Good on you. The response in regard to the raffle, unless I believed he had earned the prize in some way, like by a years-long perseverance in buying raffle tickets, would be Good for you.

And now that the phrase has been uncoupled, as it were, Good for you finds itself increasingly used sarcastically. […]

I confess I still think of it as an Australianism, but obviously I’m out of the loop. Does Ferris’s analysis sound right to those still in the loop?

Comments

  1. As an Australian I can’t help with the main question, but I’m wondering how these US millennials are pronouncing it. I tried it with the same stress pattern as “good for you” and felt as though I were wearing socks on my hands.

  2. 29 year old American here. I’m with you: “Good for you” seems more natural/instinctive to me for both meanings, and “Good on you” sounds Australian, but it might be becoming more familiar than before.

  3. As an Australian, I’d say “Good ON ya” to mean genuine appreciation ie. “well done”.

    If it was phrased “Good on YOU”, I’d take it to mean that I am either happy or neutral about what someone has done.

    Finally the phrase “Good for you,” which I would not use, I’d interpret as an either an insult, whether thinly veiled or more obvious: eg. A: “I got a raise today” B: “Good for you (though you didn’t deserve it)” or as dismissive: eg. C: “I got the top mark in the test today” D: “Good for you, now get me the beer.”

  4. To me (NZ-raised, Australian resident), “good ON [pronoun]” implies success in a completed event/experience, while “good for [pronoun]” (used non-sarcastically) implies an upcoming positive event or else random good fortune, as in the raffle example. Thus:
    Sue’s just stared her boss down and insisted on taking next week as leave. – Good ON her!
    Sue’s taking some much-deserved leave next week. – Good for HER!

    There’s a lot of overlap, and I may be over-analyzing. But Aust/NZ usage differs from the evolving American usage as described above. In Aust/NZ the sarcastic option is of course available, especially with “good for YOU”, but unlike zyxt I don’t get any sense that it’s become prevalent.

  5. Matthew Roth says:

    I don’t notice this. The distinctions make perfect sense, but “Good on ya” is an Australianism.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    So good is never stressed, neither with on nor with for?

  7. Reproducing my comment on Ferriss’s post: This is a very common expression in Irish English (including my own speech), and is analogous to a construction in Irish Gaelic. Maybe there’s no direct connection, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the origin of the Australian phrase.

  8. * “good ON ya” — still retains a hint of Strine for me
    * “good on YOU”; “good ON him” — does not compute
    * “GOOD for YOU”, “GOOD for HIM” — slightly genteel unless used affectedly or sarcastically. may mean “well done” or “what luck”
    * “fair play” — I think this, in Irish slang at least, is encroaching on the territory of both “well done” and “what luck”. I sometimes use it, when I’m pretending to be authentic.

  9. David: In the sincere sense of good for you, it may bear a secondary sentential stress, but the primary stress is always on you, at least chez moi.

  10. My sense is the same as JC’s.

  11. I haven’t heard Good on you here in NorCal, but it won’t be too surprising if it immigrates in the footsteps of the now nativized No worries. It’ll have a hard time ousting Sweet, though.

  12. I use it all the time, with the meaning of “well done.” The emphasis is heavily on “ON.” I don’t know where I picked it up; now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve heard it much, with either meaning, in NorCal. But “Good for you,” (emphasis on “GOOD”) does sound a little non-committal at best, and sarcastic at worst, to my ear.

    This post made me realize that my idea of the provenance of “Good for you,” is restricted to the topic of accomplishment. I don’t think I’ve ever interpreted it in the sense of “What luck!”

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting. I’d always interpret stress on “you” as contrastive stress, and I’m still not used to the fact that prepositions are stressable in English (and northern German). I’d stress the new information, which is “good”.

  14. For me at least, stressed prepositions are contrastive only: “He is AGAINST me, not FOR me”. “Good ON ya” is quite alien to my variety of English. Some sources say it is a calque of Irish.

  15. My English has at least two cases where monosyllabic prepositions are stressed before a pronoun:

    – colloquial phrases in which the pronoun is invariable “it”: I’m ON it [I’m on the case]; He’s FOR it [He’s going to be in trouble]; He’s not really WITH it [He’s half-asleep / semi-conscious]. (I guess American “Right back at ya / atcha” is similar.)

    – when the preposition is part of a verbal phrase and follows the direct object of the verb. Eg, He gave it TO me; I threw the saucepan AT him. Here the stress on the preposition is relatively light, and non-contrastive: stress on the pronoun has to be contrastive (I threw the saucepan at HIM, not at YOU).

  16. Ian: I have the first case (where the object is a dummy it, although for it to me can only mean ‘in favor of it’), but never the second: that sounds very British to me /tmi/.

  17. In “Good on you,” the “Good on” is an invariable and inseparable unit. You can’t change it to a contrastive version, like “[Good on you, but] better on him,” and you can’t split it up like “Good, therefore, on you”, and you can’t elaborate on it like “Good all over you.” So, although obviously it does contain a stressed preposition superficially, I imagine that in the constructicon it’s just a blob that happens to have stress on that syllable, rather than a special exception within the “prepositional bits and pieces” zone.

  18. Matt says: In “Good on you,” the “Good on” is an invariable and inseparable unit.

    I’m not sure I understand this. Australians tend to say “Good Onya”, with the stress on the initial syllable of “Onya.”

  19. tangent says:

    I am with Molly that “good for you” can only mean mild praise of their action, not a comment on their luck. Like “nice going”. I don’t have “good on you” available though.

  20. I left England 60 years ago, since then the English-speaking world has stood still. I know “good for you”, and it’s always had a positive meaning. I’ve never been confronted with “Good on you” before today.

  21. I’m not sure I understand this. Australians tend to say “Good Onya”, with the stress on the initial syllable of “Onya.”

    Right, no argument. But I mean, unlike the “good on” in the phrase “That sauce tastes good on chicken,” it’s not really reducible to its parts—you could look up “good” and “on” and “you” in the dictionary and still be a bit mystified about exactly what it meant (a benediction? a wish that “you” stop being wicked? what’s the subject of this sentence anyway? etc.). So it’s not surprising that it doesn’t pattern well with other prepositional phrases, since it’s not made the same way (I would argue).

    Incidentally, I looked it up in the controversial and hoonophobic Australian National Dictionary. It’s in sense 1 of “good”:

    1. In the phrase good on you (or her, him, etc.): an expression of approbation, ‘well done!’ [Perhaps from British dialect, where the phrase is attested in Norfolk (EDD). Chiefly Australian in early use but ‘now equally common in UK and Ireland’ (GDS). Also NZ: DNZE 1905.]

    1873 N.E. Ensign (Benalla) 30 Sept. 2/4 During a pause in the proceedings Mr Sharpe gave a loud sneeze, which Baldwin evidently looked on as a good omen, for he broke away from the policeman and jumping up on the floor of the Court exclaimed ‘Good on you, hurrah, three cheers for Sharpe.’ 1883 S. Austral. Advertiser (Adelaide) 8 Aug 5/6 A visitor in the stranger’s gallery called out in loud terms of approbation—’Hear, hear, good on you, old man.’ …

    So no support for the “calque from Gaelic” theory here, although no explicit argument against either I suppose (other than the phrase originating in Australia rather than Ireland, but a determined transportee could calque anywhere they had a mind to, I suppose).

    Off topic, but I was surprised by sense 2 of “good”, which is “In good health, well.” As in “How are you?” “I’m good, thanks.” Is this really an Australianism??

  22. Incidentally, I looked it up in the controversial and hoonophobic Australian National Dictionary

    Hoonophobic?

  23. Hoons are the Aussie version of rednecks or chavs. Originally a hoon was a pimp, but now a person who habitually drives dangerously (the Australian states have “anti-hoon laws”), and by extension anyone who participates in defiantly lower-class culture.

  24. Thanks!

  25. ə de vivre says:

    What’s the difference between a hoon and a bogan?

  26. Disclaimer: I speak from docta ignorantia, not from any sort of experience.

    From outside, they are probably about equal as terms for ‘uppity working class person’, but from inside, one can call oneself a bogan without necessarily driving like a hoon or associating with those who do. I would also guess that hoon tends to refer to younger people: neither term is even 40 years old.

  27. Thanks Matt for the explanation.

    By the way, the word “hoonophobic” is fantastic.

  28. Yeah, just my little joke since a couple of the words identified as missing in the AND thread were hoon-related (snakey, burnout).

    Incidentally, “hoon” in the original sense of “lout, exhibitionist” is WWII-vintage (first citation 1938), but the “reckless driver” sense is indeed more recent (1988, both as noun and verb). The “pimp” sense has cites back to 1950.

  29. jamessal says:

    I say both, one with varying stress, never having hitherto reflected on the origins or differences. I agree that “Good ON you,” always pronounced thus, is a congratulations for an achievement or at least for something positive clearly deserved, whereas “Good for YOU,” refers as often as not to a positive turn of events of any sort; “GOOD for you” — in my experience, like all the above — is a synonym for “Good ON you.”

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