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On a recent short flight, an air hostess offered a snack to an enormously fat American lady sitting next to me. "No, thank you," she said, "I'm good." If the question of what people eat is a moral one, she looked as if she hadn't always been good, to put it mildly.

Nowadays, when you ask people how they are, they are as likely to tell you that they are good as that they are well. It is as if you were inquiring after their moral rather than their bodily condition.

Of course, the two have seldom been more closely linked, health, diet and safety having replaced faith, hope and charity as the desiderata of the virtuous life. Since so many modern illnesses are the consequence of overindulgence in one thing or another, an inquiry after health is indeed a moral one. Oh Lord, we have eaten those things that we ought not to have eaten, and not eaten those things that we ought to have eaten.

To English ears of a certain age, however, it still sounds strange for someone to say, in any sense whatever, that he is good. Surely, that is for someone else to say? One doesn't blow one's own trumpet, however pleased with oneself one secretly is.

"I'm good" - so often heard these days - has a complacent and almost boastful ring, very different from that of "I'm well, thank you." No one could say, "I'm good, thanks be to God." No one is good by mere luck or good fortune, let alone by divine mercy.

People who are good listen, often with rapt attention, to their bodies. Their body tells them what to do and they do it. Alas, virtue is not always rewarded and, the perfect regimen notwithstanding, illness sometimes - indeed always, in the long-term - supervenes. When that happens, do people say, "I'm bad"?

Not often. They revert to the adverbial - not well. At most they say that they are feeling bad, which is not the same as being bad, of course. There is an asymmetry in our moral assessment of ourselves: goodness comes from within, badness from without. People, as a general rule, don't ask for an explanation of their good behaviour: only their bad is mysterious to them. In many years of medical practice, no one has ever asked me, "Do you think it could be my childhood that makes me so nice, doctor?"

If the fat lady on the plane had wanted the snack, would she have said, "Yes please, I'm bad"

 
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Carbonel
December 11th, 2008
8:12 AM
The slang in question is short for "I'm good to go." If the online internet slang project is to be believed (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/librarysearch/) this is of military origin. In the U.S., of course, the ordinary citizen is probably more likely to either have served, or be related to someone in the service than in Great Britain. It's no wonder this phrase is common place among hoi polloi. I suspect, however, that Mr. Dalrymple is correct in his argument (as his powers of observation and understanding of human nature seem excellent), even if (in this case) his premise is weak.

jummy
December 10th, 2008
9:12 PM
Actually, this seems to have been a grasping attempt to transform a facile snark about an American idiom he dislikes into something more high-minded and meaningful.

Anonymous
December 4th, 2008
11:12 PM
Unfortunately, I think Dr Dalrymple has based his article on an incorrect premise, based on his misunderstanding of American slang. In the context he cites in his first paragraph, "I'm good" means neither "I'm well" nor "I'm virtuous" -- it means "I'm fine," ie, "I have all I need at the moment." It's commonly used to decline something that's offered (not necessarily food or goodies). "I'm good" is also used as an ungrammatical variant of "I'm well," but not in this context.

David Williams
November 30th, 2008
1:11 PM
With respect to Andrew, Dr Dalrymple is making a point by digging at a small cultural difference in the use of language in the U.S. when compared to England. As a Brit, I smirked slighly when I found that the appropriate response to "How'ya doin'" is "I'm doing good" Grammatically, it "should" be "I'm doing well", I thought. Unless there is a tale about to follow about how much chartiable work for worthy causes to follow. These minor points can grate. I'm not keen on the use of the word "anal" to imply that someone is "nit-picking" or "being stuffy". You say "tomarto", I say "tomayto"...

The Holy Cynic
November 30th, 2008
3:11 AM
Andrew, I have never been a fan of your writings or your opinions. Would it be possible for you to be less contemptuous of social satire? As for all this talk of pictures and anality, please keep it to yourself, old boy.

Elberry
November 30th, 2008
1:11 AM
Most amusing, and true i think. Fat people are a strange and generally self & calorie-obsessed lot.

AllenC
November 29th, 2008
11:11 PM
Andrew, I don't believe Dr. Daniels is criticizing people for being physically unattractive, even if it's a result of their own habits. He's simply calling attention to their belief in their own moral perfection.

Andrew
November 28th, 2008
3:11 PM
Mr Daniels, I have long been a fan of your writing and share many of your opinions. However, would it be possible for you to be a little less contemptuous of other human beings ? I have seen pictures of you and, with great respect,I am bound to say that you are no oil painting. Kindly try to be a little less anal, there's a good chap.

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