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One Writer's Ravings:       A Logophile's Blog for Language Lovers      

How Do You Feel? Good or Well?

A person identifying herself as "Nerdy Superfan Excited to Ask You Something the First Time," who listens to me on the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver (see the Events page for dates and times), wrote me recently with a complaint about how people use the word good.

"It drives me nuts when I ask someone 'How are you?' and they say good," she said. "The correct answer is well: 'You’re doing well! Superman does good!' One person I mentioned this to responded, 'I think if you ask "How are you?" then good can be acceptable, but if you ask "How are you DOING?" then it must be well.' I would love your thoughts." This was my response:

I'm glad you wrote me rather than calling the show because this is a case where I have to disabuse you of an arbitrary opinion. Although good meaning "in good health" is informal usage, it is nonetheless reputable usage, and it has been used this way in American English for at least two hundred years, as this entry from the Oxford English Dictionary shows:

(d) colloq. (orig. U.S.). Of a person: in good health or spirits; well. Only in predicative use, or as a complement; originally and chiefly in to feel good.

1821 J. Howison Sketches Upper Canada xvi. 294 I like tea, it makes me feel good.
1839 F. Marryat Diary in Amer. II. Remarks 224 I have heard a lady say, ‘I don't feel at all good, this morning.’
1883 E. W. Nye Baled Hay 88 They was just frolicky and gay because they felt good.
1921 L. Robinson Whiteheaded Boy i. 23 George. I didn't see you, Aunt Ellen. How are you. Aunt Ellen. I'm good, thanks. You're looking well.
1934 T. Wood Cobbers iii. 27 He said he was good, which means his health was.
1973 D. Potter Hide & Seek 124 He felt good, and in control, free of depression and nourishingly busy in his mind.
2006 J. L. Holm Penny from Heaven vi. 67 ‘How's your mother?’ she asks. She and my mom went to school together. ‘She's good, thanks.’
2011 Vanity Fair Nov. 166/2 We want to feel good and we want to have nice things.

In fact, a strong case could be made that, in American English today, "I'm well," "I feel well," and the like are perceived as overly formal and persnickety, and good is the dominant form in this construction. Although it would be incorrect to say "I'm doing good" unless you are a philanthropist, to answer the question "How are you?" with "I'm good" or "I feel good" or just "Good" is unimpeachable.

So the answer is that both are correct—with well being more formal (“I feel quite well”) and good being more colloquial (“I feel good!" — James Brown). Thus you may tell your doctor that you feel good or well, as you please.

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