Sunday 2 March 2008

On well good

A correspondent writes to ask where the intensifying use of well, as in well good, comes from. He comments: ' I certainly do not use it in this way and didn't when i was a child.'

Nor did I - but I did use well aware and well able, as I expect my correspondent did, so the intensifying usage isn't as new as we might think. In fact the OED has examples of well being used with adjectives that go back as far as Old English, such as well many and well sharp- see the entry at well (adv.) IV.16). And what do we find in 1297? Robert of Gloucester saying 'Engelond his a wel god lond' - England is a very good land. Later uses include well old, well long, and well happy. There are even instances of well being used with comparatives, such as well better and well faster.

The OED calls such uses 'rare', apart from in such cases as well aware. So the puzzle is not why the new usage has appeared again, but why it went out of fashion in the first place. The new generation that has 'discovered' well good are simply renewing their connection with a very old usage. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it flourish, therefore, as it did once before. Stand by for well better!


Andrew said...

What a brilliant post - well done!

Larry said...

I hate "well good". I nearly changed Bible translation (well, exaggeration but hey whats a steaming mountain of hyperbole between friends) when I read Matthew 3: 17, "This is My Son with whom I am well pleased" (ESV)