Q: I get my back up (just a little) when someone says “Have a good one.” OK, it’s pretty clear it means “Have a good day,” but when did this foolish usage come into use? And why? It’s not as if “one” has fewer syllables than “day.”
A: People who say “Have a good one” may annoy you, but their hearts are in the right place. At least we hope so.
You’re probably right that the expression is a variant of “Have a good day.” Our guess is that “Have a good one” is starting to replace another variant, the still ubiquitous “Have a nice day.”
We also find some of these formulaic phrases annoying, but we try not to get too irritated, since “Have a good day,” the granddaddy of them all, has been around in one form or another since the early 1200s.
The Oxford English Dictionary hasn’t yet commented on “Have a good one” but it has taken notice of “Have a nice day.”
The OED describes it as a colloquial phrase (one more characteristic of speech than of writing) that originated in the US nearly 40 years ago.
It’s used, the OED says, “as a conventional formula on parting,” like “goodbye.”
The dictionary’s first published reference for the phrase is from Dorothy Halliday’s 1971 book Dolly and the Doctor Bird: “The admonitions of the freeway from the airport are wholly American: Keep off the Median … Have a Nice Day.”
Here are a couple of other citations.
1980, from a piece in Redbook magazine: “He picks up the phone, calls his old friend. What are old friends for? Have a nice day.”
1985, from Eating Out in London: “What characterises a good restaurant in America is brisk service (which can, but doesn’t necessarily entail the ‘have a nice day’ syndrome).”
But back to “Have a good day.”
The earliest OED citation for the expression in its modern form is from Paul Theroux’s novel Picture Palace (1978): “ ‘Have a good day,’ he said. ‘You too.’ ”
However, an earlier version (minus the indefinite article “a”) first showed up around the year 1205 in the Brut, a history of England in verse by the Middle English poet Layamon.
In the medieval poem, King Vortiger tells his knights: Habbe alle godne dæie (in Modern English, “Have now all good day”).
The OED describes the now-obsolete Middle English version of the expression, “have good day,” as “a phrase used as a salutation at meeting or parting.”
The latest OED citation for an article-free version of the expression is from Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (1814): “Thanks for your proffer—have good-day.”
The expression has also appeared in various other guises, including the verbal phrases “bid (someone) good day” or “give (a person) good day.”
The OED’s citations include this one from Ann Radcliffe’s novel The Italian (1797): “The old lady again bade him good-day.”
Here’s another, from Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Wyllard’s Weird (1885): “They gave him good-day if they met him in the street.”
The plain and simple “good day,” the OED says, is comparable to the French bon jour, the German guten tag, and equivalent phrases in all the Teutonic and Romance languages.
It adds, though, that “good day” is less common in English than in French or German.
In English, the phrases “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening” are more common at meetings and partings. (“Good night” is used only in parting.)
The OED’s earliest citation in writing for the simple “good day” is from a set of religious dramas known as The Towneley Mysteries (1460): “A good day, thou, and thou.”
Jane Austen used it in 1798 in her novel Northanger Abbey: “And to marry for money, I think the wickedest thing in existence. Good day.”
We all know, of course, how common “g’day” now is in Australia, where it’s become a national byword.
And with that, we’ll bid you and our other readers a good day.
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