“Good on [someone]”

In a television interview yesterday, former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had given “voice to a voiceless part of the Turkish population – good on him for that.”

Hayden was using a phrase that I’ve started to notice fairly frequently among American recently–an equivalent of the familiar (to us) expression of approval “good for you,” or him, her, them, me, etc. I think the adoption here is partly due to a slight difference of nuance. “Good on you” feels like it’s always used in praise of someone’s effort or actions, whereas “good for you” could apply either to that or good fortune, as in winning the lottery or having good weather on vacation.

The OED says “good on” was chiefly found in Australia and New Zealand until the 1970s, though it has an intriguing citation from a 1905 book called The Bush Boys of New Zealand: or Dinkums and Mac: “First one and then another came up and congratulated in true British boys’ style. ‘Good on you, Dinkums, old man. Put it there, old feller.’”

Also intriguingly, the OED says that “good on” formulations have “a stress on good, unlike good for you where the stress is on you.” That has not been my experience, though I hasten to add my experience is limited. I feel that in “Good on you,” I’ve most commonly heard the stress is on “on.” And “good on him,” which developed later, is usually said “good on him“–as Michael Hayden said it in the clip I linked to at the top.

But I wonder what Australian readers have to say.

7 thoughts on ““Good on [someone]”

  1. Was it just a typo that caused you to refer to “former Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” or are you privy to some news of the end of his regime? So far as I know, the fact that his party lost the clear majority in Parliament has no impact on his Presidency.

  2. At least in Tasmania, “Good on you” is usually pronounced “goodonya” (no real stress), “g’donya”, or if you’re really pressed for time, “onya (mate)”. If one were to say it as if it weren’t a single word, the stress usually falls on the “on” unless you want to stress the last syllable in case the him/her/it/they actually earned the compliment.

    It might be worth mentioning that as in a lot of Australian sayings, the meaning can have a positive or negative connotation – like the use of the word “bastard” as an insult or a term of endearment, “good on ya” can also be used to highlight that someone has actually done something not commendable. Australia must be a confusing place to the unitiated…

    I am struggling to think of any time I have heard someone say “good for you” in a serious way. Fellow Aussies might like to jump in here.

  3. I have heard this in Australia most commonly in the form “good onya” with the emphasis on “on,” secondary emphasis on “good.”

    1. There is an Australian thing called an Onya Bag (brilliant, very strong and colourful bag made out of parachute silk that folds away into a little pouch) because you always have it ‘onya’ – accent on the on.

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