English English language Etymology Expression Phrase origin Usage Word origin

When “I’m good” is “no, thanks”

Q: I frequently hear the expression “I’m good” in the South when a server offers a refill on coffee, iced tea, water, etc. Is this use of “I’m good” to mean “No, thank you” a regionalism or is it common now?

A: You hear the expression in the South, we hear it in New England, and we’ve seen comments about it online from people in other parts of the US as well as in the UK and Australia.

It’s definitely out there, but we wouldn’t say it’s common. The usage isn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary or the standard dictionaries we usually check. And we couldn’t find comments about it, pro or con, in usage guides.

The use of “I’m good” to mean “no, thanks” or “no more” is relatively new. As far as we can tell, it first showed up in the mid-1950s among poker players.

The earliest example we’ve found is from a game of five-card draw played in “The Reforming of Parlor Davis,” a short story by Peerce Platt in the May 13, 1955, issue of Collier’s magazine:

“ ‘I’m good,’ Parlor said.

“ ‘I’ll take one,’ Ed said. He took the card, put it with his other four, and shuffled them nervously. ‘Three hundred,’ Ed said, pushing in the remainder of his chips.

“ ‘I raise you one thousand dollars,’ Parlor said.”

The next example we’ve found, from Slaughter Island, a 1991 novel by Herb Fisher, uses the expression in the drinking sense:

“ ‘Nah, I’m good, Terry,’ said Manny, waving the bottle of beer as the houseboy moved toward him along the deck of the pool.”

In this more recent example, from Close Knit Killer, a 2013 mystery by Maggie Sefton, the phrase “I’m good” is used in the restaurant sense you’ve asked about:

“ ‘I bet you want a refill,’ Julie said, walking up to Hal. ‘You need any more, Kelly?’

“ ‘No, thanks, I’m good.’ Kelly held up her hand.”

Is this colloquial use of “I’m good” legit? We see nothing wrong with it in casual speech or informal writing.

And as we’ve written before on the blog, there’s nothing wrong with responding “I’m good” when someone asks you how you are or how you’re feeling.

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