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Have a Good One -- What?

© John Keith 2011

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The trouble with both “Have a good one” and it’s predecessor “have a nice day” is both the popularity of the expressions and the difference between their literal meanings and what they have come to mean.

“Have a good one” is currently a very popular expression in North America, but for me and I think a lot of other people, it’s an often ill-used expression. Sometimes it seems to work and it’s a nice thing to say, but other times when someone tells you to “have a good one”, you think to yourself – “What? You want me to have a good one, but a good one -- what?” Or even worse, I’ve heard people say, “Have a good one” with such a lack of conviction and a lack of any feeling it sounds like they’re saying, “Have a boring one” or “I don’t really care whether you have a good one – a good anything -- or not.”

Although there are similar expressions like “have a good day”, “have a good morning”, or “a good evening”, which are all fine, there is another one that became all too popular. Since its modern-day origins in the ‘70’s, “have a nice day” has been so overused that it is now considered a trite or hackneyed expression that has lost all value. It can even be quite irritating to the listener when used by staff at shops or fast food outlets, especially when used devoid of any feeling. To the person who hears it, “have a nice day” screams insincerity. “Have a good one” may follow a similar linguistic pathway of popular expressions that are used too much.

“Have a good one,” at first, was always used in context. If someone said, “I’m having a party”, the other person would say, “have a good one”, meaning “have a good party.” Or if someone said they were going to play a game of tennis, then “have a good one” would mean “have a good game of tennis”. When anyone said “have a good one”, the listener always knew exactly what the good one was. Now, however, the meaning of the expression is changing, and that is what is causing the problem. “Have a good one” is becoming just something to say when saying good-bye. In fact, for many people, it is just like saying “good-bye”.

However, at present, many people, myself included, still understand the expression in the literal sense, so when we hear “have a good one”, we expect to know what the good one is. But if the speaker is using it in the generic “good-bye” sense, then there is no good one – for either of us.

How then can people use this expression in the right way and at the right time? First, I think people who serve the public in shops, restaurants, or fast food outlets should avoid this expression as much as they should avoid “have a nice day”. A friendly “Thanks”, “thank you” , or “bye” is always going work. I think the level of formality is an issue too. People should not use it with their boss or with their teacher, or with their doctor or dentist or any older adult. Among young people, and by “young” I mean under thirty, it’s fine and even cool to use this popular expression as an informal way for saying good-bye. It should, however, always be a friendly and upbeat “Have a good one!”

For myself, when I hear it I have to remember that most of the time there is not any specific “thing” or “one” in “have a good one”; the person is simply saying good-bye. One day, I might even be able to bring myself to use the expression myself unselfconsciously. Okay, here goes: dear reader, have a good one.

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