I distinctly recall my first encounter with it. The year was 1990. My friend Toby had popped over for brunch. As our visit was coming to a close, I asked her to hand me a CD from a shelf beyond my reach. She readily did so, put on her coat, thanked me for my extraordinary tuna salad, headed for the door, stopped in her tracks, turned toward me and asked earnestly, “Are you good?”
Puzzled, I replied, “Why would you ask such a profound philosophical question when you have one foot out the door?”
Toby laughed. “No, I was just wondering if you needed anything else before I head for home.”
Not long after, my friend Linda stopped by for a chat. “Would you like some coffee?” I asked.
“No, thanks. I’m good,” she replied.
Bewildered, I asked, “Do only bad people drink coffee?”
Still, I was beginning to get the hang of it. “Good” didn’t only mean moral or upstanding, as it did for as long as I could remember. Somehow, through some linguistic mutation, it had begun to mean “all right,” “fine” or “okay.”
I have to admit, this addition to the American vernacular drove me crazy. But after 15 years, it has become so ubiquitous that I have finally accepted it as a fact of life. But my obsession about the legitimacy of “I’m good” has been replaced by an obsession about its etymology. How did “Are you okay?” become “Are you good”? How did “I’m fine” become “I’m good”?
Naturally, I turned to William Safire, the language maven. Sadly, my ProQuest search revealed complete silence from Sir William – and from just about the entire Fourth Estate. Then, just when I had practically given up, a miracle occurred.
About two months ago, Michael and I were spending a weekend with friends. As we were getting ready to head out to visit one of their neighbors, our host’s 20-year-old daughter piped up, “Are you good? Are you good to go?”
The word epiphany hardly begins to describe that moment – and my resultant joy. “Of course!” I exulted to Michael. “Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Isn’t it obvious? This whole ‘good’ phenomenon derives from NASA lingo!” And it made perfect sense. I could hear it in my head: “Houston to Apollo: You’re good to go. Roger.” Surely, “I’m good to go” is just, if you’ll excuse the expression, one small step away from “I’m good.”
Now, if you think that I don’t have a leg to stand on (figuratively speaking, that is), get this: I just went over to Google and typed in: “good to go.” Would you like to know the first of the 1,780,000 links that appeared on my computer screen within 0.19 seconds?
Elementary, my dear Safire.