The Grammarphobia Blog

Good on ya, mate

Q: Where does the phrase “good on you,” or the Aussie version, “good on ya,” come from? I’ve used the Aussie rendition myself instead of “kudos.”

A: The exclamation “Good on you!” is associated with Australia, but according to Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, it’s “equally common in Ireland.” Think of it as a version of “Good for you!” with a different preposition.

The phrase originated in the 20th century as “a general expression of approbation, thanks etc; also abbr. to good,” Cassell’s says.

Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English notes that the vocal emphasis is on the middle word: “on” (as in, “Good ON you!”). The book’s editor, Paul Beale, comments that the phrase is often shortened to something like “On ya!”

What is its ultimate origin? Here opinions differ.

Partridge says: “The phrase, although acknowledged to be quintessentially Australian, may well have been borrowed from Cockney: ‘Good on ‘em!’ = good for them, well done!, appears in the caption of a Punch cartoon 10 Oct. 1917.”

But Cassell’s cites a source that has linked the phrase to an Irish expression, rinne sé mhaith orm, which means “he made/did his good on me.” Since “Good on you!” is common among the Irish, this seems the likelier origin.

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