That’s All Well and Good
Sand Candle
In North America, when you ask people how they are, most of the time they say “I’m good.” That has always slightly irritated me because that’s not what they mean. It’s the wrong word. They may, indeed, be good people, but what they really mean to say is that they are healthy, or well. So, just to be fussy, when I am asked I always say “I’m well.” Sometimes I see a flicker of understanding in people’s eyes, but mostly I get the same reaction that I get when I pronounce things with an English accent. For some reason, that is perceived as “cute” or even “adorable” by many people.

Americans like English accents. They make people smile. That’s why you hear so many in advertisements and animated films. But why is an accent from anywhere in England so much more “adorable” than one from India, or Afghanistan, or Nigeria, or Peru? Did the cuteness follow or precede the Geico gecko?

Perhaps the accent is “cute” in the same way that kittens in tea cups are cute; unexpected, harmless, and out of place. Americans can help you if you are a tiny kitten or if your accent is almost right but just a little bit wrong. If you are not small and fluffy, or if your accent is too far from correct, then there’s no helping you. My accent allows people to feel superior to me. They know I’m getting it wrong, but they are too polite to say so. If called upon, they could all teach me how to get it right, but in the meantime, they will indulge me because they know what I mean. That’s all well and good, but…

When I was young, the phrase “That’s all well and good” was always followed with “but.” Subsequent to this was usually some sort of bubble-popping reality check. My family is good at reality checks; well, most of us, most of the time. As a child and later as a young woman, I tended to daydream, and I had ideas for fun activities that did not always meet with approval.

Once, when my parents were on vacation, I decided to make sand candles in the kitchen on the draining board by the sink. They were going to be wonderful, with sixties-style hippy charm, and capable of being sold for real money. Of course, the inevitable happened. One of the sand molds broke, the molten wax broke free, oozed down the draining board into the sink, and filled the drain with wax. I called upon the next-door neighbour for help and, despite his misgivings about my sanity, he took apart the pipes under the sink and cleared the wax out of the U-bend. (I’ve always been grateful for that. Thank you, Mr. Goodchild.) Subsequently, he asked why I wanted to pour the wax down the sink. When I explained, he said “That’s all well and good, but..”

Yes, I got a reality check that day, but I never did tell my parents about the wax in the drain. The conversation would not have gone well, and the consequences would not have been good.


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  1. Guilty of saying “I am good” but meaning I am peaceful, calm, OK, I’m getting along without too many bumps in the road. I can imagine Americans thinking you’re “cute” but I can’t imagine them thinking you’re “getting it wrong”…not with our “hey, whatever floats your boat” attitude. Unique can turn a head, but I’m afraid we’ve heard our language butchered for so long that we don’t know what IS correct. (Including me).

    1. I like your use of “good,” Sally. It is very California-beach-culture type of easy going. It doesn’t matter much to me that it is, strictly speaking, incorrect. Informal communications are full of variations on the rules of grammar. It’s just one of those things I notice, just as you would notice the details of someone’s sewing.

      I do get a surprising variety of responses to my accent and pronunciations, but it’s very rare that I am corrected.

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