Q: I’m a reporter at a local public radio station who answers questions from listeners. I wonder if you can help me reply to a man who asks if “have a good one” is specific to the Northwest. I’m pretty sure the answer to that is no. But when and where was the expression first used?
A: You’re right. The expression “have a good one” is not specific to the Northwest. Our searches of digitized newspapers trace it back to the early 1970s. The first examples we’ve found are from papers in New York, Colorado, and California. Now, it’s heard across the US.
Although “have a good one” is relatively new, similar expressions are much older. In fact, “have a good one” ultimately comes from the medieval version of “have a good day.”
The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example of “have a good day,” which we’ve expanded here, is from Layamon’s Brut, an early Middle English poem written sometime before 1200:
“And habbeð alle godne dæie, to niht ich wulle faren awæi” (“And have all a good day, for tonight I will go away”). In the citation, Vortiger, the treacherous steward for King Constance, bids goodbye to his knights, who are drinking at an inn.
The dictionary’s next citation is from Sir Degare, a medieval romance dated around 1330: “Haue god dai; i mot gon henne” (“Have a good day; I must go hence”).
And this later example is from John Dryden’s Fables, Ancient and Modern (1700), translations of classical and medieval poetry: “But fare well, and haue good daie.” The quote is from Dryden’s version of “The Knight’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (circa 1386).
The OED defines the usage this way: “In imperative, used to wish someone a good, pleasant, etc., time or experience. Chiefly in phrases expressing good wishes on parting.” Until the 19th century, the dictionary says, the expression seems to have appeared only without the indefinite article “a.”
In the early 1800s, writers began using variations of the expression with the indefinite article, as in this example from Story of Jack Halyard, the Sailor Boy, an 1824 children’s book by the American writer William S. Cardell: “Go, Peter, by all means, and have a lively time with your mates.”
And here’s a variant from The Virginians, an 1859 historical novel by William Makepeace Thackeray: “ ‘Have a good time, Harry!’ and down goes George’s head on the pillow again.”
The first OED example for the original expression used with the indefinite article is from “Echo Hunt,” a hunting story by David Gray in the November 1902 issue of Century Magazine: “ ‘Good sport, Echo Hunt!’ she called. ‘Have a good day!’ ”
The dictionary’s earliest citation for the common variant “have a nice day” is from Loneliness, a 1915 novel by Robert Hugh Benson, an Anglican priest later ordained as a Roman Catholic:
“Ah! well. It can’t be helped. Have a nice day, my boy.” Benson died in 1914, a year before the novel was published as Loneliness in the UK and Loneliness? in the US.
In the mid-20th century, Oxford says, these expressions began showing up in US “commercial dealings, esp. in serving customers, as an expression of good wishes and general politeness.”
The dictionary specifically cites the business use of the variants “have a nice day” and later “have a good one,” and adds that the usage is ”sometimes perceived as insincere or shallow.”
The first commercial example in the OED is from the May 19, 1958, issue of Broadcasting magazine: “ ‘Have a happy day’ became his morning greeting to the staff. Now it greets telephone callers to the agency.” The reference is to the president of a Los Angeles ad agency.
The next example is from an ad in the June 3, 1965, New York Times: “Good morning. Today is the day you can start saving money on 914 toner. …. Have a nice day.” (The toner was apparently for the Xerox 914 photocopier.)
As for “have a good one,” the earliest written example we’ve found in our searches is from a personal ad in the Oct. 30, 1972, issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper at Columbia University: “PRINCESS, Have a good one. With love, The Frog.”
The next is from the Nov. 6, 1975, issue of the Steamboat Pilot in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Here a columnist bids farewell to readers before leaving on a Mexican vacation: “I won’t say goodbye, only ‘Hasta luego’ have a good one!”
The earliest commercial example we’ve seen for “have a good one” is from a Dec. 25, 1976, ad in the San Bernardino Sun in California: “All May Co stores closed today, Christmas. Have a good one.”
And this one appeared the following year in a holiday message by the Public Service Company of Colorado to the utility’s customers:
“Using energy efficiently will help you get the most for your energy dollar … and leave you more for the holidays! Have a good one!” (From the Nov. 17, 1977, Louisville Times in Boulder County, Colorado.)
A letter in the Feb. 28, 1985, issue of the Daily Kent Stater, the student paper at Kent State University in Ohio, uses the expressing in commenting about the campus bus service:
“At 7 every morning, I am greeted with a sleepy ‘Good morning,’ and every night it was either ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Have a good one.’ ”
Finally, as of now the OED’s only example for “have a good one” is from Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (1991), by Marjorie Perloff:
“After we land, the smiling flight attendants will surely tell us, yet again, to ‘Enjoy.’ Or, in a slightly more ambiguous version now in vogue, to ‘Have a good one.’ ”
[NOTE: On Oct. 20, 2018, a reader commented, “George Carlin hated the expression ‘Have a good one’ and would answer, ‘I already have a good one. Now I’m looking for a longer one.’ ”]