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.” Some have suggested an origin in the Gaelic expression maith thú (“good to you,” “well done”).

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.” Others, as we said above, have cited the Gaelic maith thú. Since “Good on you!” is common among the Irish, Gaelic seems the likelier origin.

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