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I'm good
September 28, 2010 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Where does the colloquial English phrase "I'm good" come from, and has it suddenly exploded in popularity?

I'm not languagehat, so I don't know if this locution is American, British (adopted in the United States), regional to the United States, and so forth.

It seems to mean "I'm okay, thank you," or "Everything's okay, don't bother." It is distinct from "I'm good at ____" or "good with ______".

I found already that the self-appointed guardians of language hate it as an ungrammatical locution.

It also seems to be something you now hear everywhere. I suppose it's a sign of the times, a stiff upper lip, as a way of stating "Things may not be good, but I'm coping, thank you."

It's less obviously trendy than the historically British "keep calm and carry on," which has become an annoying marketing trend used to sell posters, bags and other crap.
posted by bad grammar to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
William Safire vs. Languagehat
posted by John Cohen at 4:55 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I first heard it when I moved to L.A. from Chicago about 10 years ago. I picked it up without thinking about it, until I was visiting friends in New Zealand in 2003 and they cracked up every time I said it. I started hearing it from people outside SoCal in the past couple of years... maybe it's become more widespread via Hollywood (e.g. reality show contestants from L.A. who say it, or scripted TV shows or movies with characters who say it)?
posted by scody at 4:59 PM on September 28, 2010


I've always considered "I'm good" to be a shortened version of "I'm well, thank you." As in, "Would you like more ice cream?" "Nah, I'm good."

I say this, and I grew up in the 90s in Georgia.
posted by phunniemee at 5:03 PM on September 28, 2010


I'm 29, I grew up in Florida and I say it (less frequently than others of my cohort, but still). I actually thought it was Southern in derivation.

I think it's probably grammatically connected to "it's all good", which uses "good" to represent basically the same concept and which is probably easier to trace idiomaticaly/semantically.
posted by penduluum at 5:06 PM on September 28, 2010


I think it's short for "I'm good to go."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:12 PM on September 28, 2010


That would just raise the question what "I'm good to go" is all about.
posted by John Cohen at 5:19 PM on September 28, 2010


An "idiom" is "an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements".

This is one, and sometimes there's no easy explanation for where idioms come from. It's one of the things that make natural languages so wonderful -- and such a pain in the ass for computers to try to understand.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:23 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


That would just raise the question what "I'm good to go" is all about.

I've always thought of it as a military-ism, a sort of overaffirmation that "yes, I am ready to move."

That said, this suggests that it might have come from a Little Debbie tagline originally. No evidence is cited, however.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:31 PM on September 28, 2010


I think "good" is just a synonym for "fine." If you think of it as saying the same thing as "I'm fine" or "I'm fine, thank you," it doesn't seem weird at all.
posted by TSGlenn at 5:35 PM on September 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


If the New Zealanders say, as Australians do, "No worries," then they have nothing to laugh at.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:37 PM on September 28, 2010


I can't remember a time when I didn't know what "I'm good" meant.

Also in British English, it's been standard for a long time to say "I'm fine" to mean much the same thing. (e.g. Host: "More wine?" Guest: "I'm fine, thanks.")

I believe "good to go" started out as marine-speak, and originally meant something like "I'm in position and all set, ready to go on your signal." And by extension it can mean in any situation "I'm ready any time you are" or "I am not lacking for anything". However I can't give you definite proof that's where it comes from.
posted by philipy at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2010


I say this and grew up in the '90s in Texas. I always thought of it as a casual thing, not a stiff upper-lip thing. Like, "hey, do you want another beer?" "Naw, I'm good." We'll even say, "I'm good on beer [or whatever it is] right now, thanks."
posted by elpea at 5:56 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose it's a sign of the times, a stiff upper lip, as a way of stating "Things may not be good, but I'm coping, thank you."

No, I've only ever heard it used to decline an offer. "I'm going to the store - you need anything?" "No, I'm good", meaning, "I'm not in a suboptimal situation where I need or want anything from the store - all is well!" I agree with Chocolate Pickle that it's used in the same manner as "good to go", except "good to go" implies that you have what you need in order to accomplish something.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:58 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've always (at least as long as I can remember) said it, and I'm 17 and from a northern suburb of chicago.
posted by kylej at 6:08 PM on September 28, 2010


It's been around for quite some time in SoCal, judging by screenplay dialogue. I've seen it 15 years ago, and it's still going strong. Basically, a variation of "I'm set".
posted by VikingSword at 6:46 PM on September 28, 2010


My mother, who is from New York City, identifies it whenever she hears it as a "New York-ism" dating from at least the 1960s.
posted by Electrius at 6:55 PM on September 28, 2010


I would agree this wasn't common when I was growing up (Upper Midwest, 1970s). My memory of my first impression of it was as a Southern-Western-Texas colloquialism, a good-old-boyism. Later it has a sort of frat-boy, California "bra" association. I think it is just the colloquial usage in the place of well if anything grammatical needs to be pinned down, but the numerous adjectival uses of good already identified need not really be expanded.

I have a hunch that this, and similarly "good to go", are sort of status reports resulting from some kind of protocol -- something like NASA's "nominal". I think it's interesting and unlikely to be coincidental that we have the old idiom "good and ready" (which seems to have, actually, Biblical origins, bringing us back to Safire in a way), which may have spawned the Americanism intensifier "good and", a usage I think has nearly vanished in spoken American. Regardless, the military most likely had some kind of protocol requesting readiness status of a unit, and this was pushed downhill onto individuals.

I don't get the feeling that "I'm good" by itself is a contraction of "good to go", but this is just a hunch. Further, I'm going to speculate that it might derive from something like gambling, e.g. not needing another card in a deal. I can't find any usage supporting that, but maybe it isn't actually gambling. In short, I do suspect this may have originated as a protocol response, I just don't know in what. That's just based on the very perfunctory and serviceable ways in which it's used, mainly asking whether someone needs anything (beer, or help). You don't hear it as much in a non-responsive form, whereas you do hear "good to go" in different grammatical and situational forms.
posted by dhartung at 7:08 PM on September 28, 2010


I remember growing up with it at least since the 80's in Seattle. Generally, tended to use more "I'm cool" in the same fashion. It was more in use in the black slang circles than the white folks.
posted by yeloson at 7:21 PM on September 28, 2010


Man, I thought it exploded 10 years ago and was on its way out, I don't hear it nearly as much as I used to!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 PM on September 28, 2010


Wow, I can't remember not using/saying and hearing "I'm good" and would not have noticed if its use has increase decreased or gone sideways. It definitely has the same connotation as "No, thank you, I am fine with what I have/am doing". Although, in practice I tend to use it to mean a bit more than 'fine', which lacks enthusiasm. 37 and from Albany, NY FWIW.
posted by meinvt at 7:33 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the late 80s, early 90s in SoCal I picked it up as a waving off a joint when you've already got your buzz on.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:46 PM on September 28, 2010


This was firmly entrenched in my circle of acquaintances by the mid-90s at least so it's not new at all.

No, I've only ever heard it used to decline an offer.

I think we're talking about two different distinct usages here. The first is in a response to "How are you?" -- "I'm good." The second is the one where you decline something: "Do you need a refill?" -- "No thanks, I'm good." I've heard both of these in approximately equal proportion.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2010


TSGlenn: I think "good" is just a synonym for "fine."

More precsely, it is meant to communicate the more correct statement "I'm well, thank you." I don't care what Grammar Girl says, the correct response is "I'm well!"
posted by DarlingBri at 11:44 PM on September 28, 2010


I grew up in the 70s in Australia and had one teacher who tried to convince us to answer "how are you?" with "I'm well, thank you." Not bloody likely, we all answered, "I'm good, thanks."
posted by b33j at 11:55 PM on September 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The character "Clean" (Mr. Clean from some south bronx shithole) says "I'm good." in "Apocalypse Now" and that was made in 1979 or so, and is set, of course, much earlier during the Vietnam War.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:02 AM on September 29, 2010


I lived in Massachusetts for some time and they say "I'm all set" to decline an offer, similar to your "I'm good".
posted by hoca efendi at 4:27 AM on September 29, 2010


I grew up in the '80s in NorCal and I've always said "I'm good" for both an answer to "How are you?" (I'm good, thanks) and "Need anything?" (No thanks, I'm good). However, I grew up on a Navy base, so I always assumed it was Navy jargon (good to go = ready to take off).
posted by patheral at 6:53 AM on September 29, 2010


I think it is just the colloquial usage in the place of well

"I'm good" and "I'm well" have two very different meanings, to me.

"I'm good", to me, means exactly what other posters have described "I have everything I need for now." Whereas "I'm well" is a more articulate/formal way of saying "I'm doing OK." Usually used as a response to "How are you?" I would never say "I'm well" to a waiter asking me if I wanted a refill on coffee.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 AM on September 29, 2010


Canadian (East Coast) here, like meinvt, this phrase is absolutely commonplace for me so I assume I've heard it all my life.

Of your two definitions (which I don't think are the same at all), it's along the line of "I'm fine, thanks". I would in fact think that "good" can directly with no change of meaning, replace the "fine" in that sentence. I'd say it if someone wanted to refill my drink or is offering me another burger.

It doesn't mean "Things may not be good, but I'm coping, thank you" in my usage. In fact, in this situation I'd be more likely to use "fine" but in a really aggrieved or stressed tone of voice (like if I'd just hit my head and I wanted people to leave me alone).
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2010


How about "I'm cool" to mean the same thing, like in Pulp Fiction?

"You cool?" "I'm cool"
posted by jander03 at 9:14 AM on September 29, 2010


Thanks. I hear it most in my stressed out workplace (which has a wide mix of people from different backgrounds), so perhaps I'm associating it with the stress, though as many of you have suggested, it's about conveying that you're ready, capable, satisfied, etc. and basically unstressed. It's probably too general an idiom to localize.
posted by bad grammar at 4:14 PM on September 29, 2010


Maybe it's something you hear in your stressy environment because people are trying to pep talk themselves, or maybe do a sort of mental triage (or enable others to keep up their own mental triages, if it's frequently in re coworkers conveying their OK-ness vs. Not OK-ness amongst themselves).
posted by Sara C. at 5:28 PM on September 29, 2010


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