Good Job – Not

July 6th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 82 comments

It is possible that I am simply being curmudgeonly and persnickety, and I’m sure you’ll tell me if that is so, but there are two popular phrases that I would like to rail against. Working with my husband on our Ask the Rabbi column regarding self-esteem vs. self-respect made me wonder if both these ubiquitous phrases are misguided results of the disastrous self-esteem movement.

The first one, “My bad,” has replaced the words “I’m sorry” or “I take responsibility” in many offices. Am I alone in thinking that those words trivialize careless mistakes and poor judgment?

When someone messes up, as we all do from time to time, doesn’t the apology at the very least demand a complete sentence? Both “I’m sorry” and “I take responsibility” are opening statements that lead to further detailing of what went wrong, how it can be fixed, and how similar mistakes will be avoided in the future. In my experience, “My bad” stands alone and is often accompanied by an uncomfortable smirk. Is it possible that the recipients of endless participation trophies are not able to acknowledge blowing it and think that simply trying is adequate and worthy of applause?

The other phrase that raises my hackles is heard everywhere children are found. Hang out at a playground or listen in the supermarket and you’re sure to hear it. I’m talking about the words, “Good job.”  Did a toddler put on his shoes by himself? Good job. Did a six year old connect the bat to the ball? Good job. Did a child clear his plate or hang up her coat or do anything that used to be considered his or her chore? Good job.

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, often said that saying  a blanket thank you was meaningless. “Thank you for everything is the same as thank you for nothing,” he intoned. After a meal at our house he had something to compliment about each course, the table layout and the waitress staff (his granddaughters). His words were always more meaningful than the standard, “Everything was delicious.”

“Good job” seems to suffer from a similar lack of specificity as the general thank you. Uttered for everything and anything, it reflects a lack of focus on a unique accomplishment. Would a child rather hear the words, “Good job,” or “Wow. I can see that you worked hard on this drawing. Those flowers look good enough to smell.” Which one suggests that you actually took the time to look at the picture?

But there’s another problem with those two words. They get said with nauseating frequency, often for activities that should be standard and expected. If a drawing was scribbled hastily, must it be complimented? When a child sets the table, isn’t the same, “Thank you for helping,” that you would say to your spouse more appropriate than words that suggest he did an amazing feat? Don’t the words, “Good job,” seem the equivalent of patting a dog’s head rather than celebrating a new level of ability or assuming competency in an expected one?

When children glow with pride as they reach a new milestone they deserve having the achievement noticed with specificity. “You buttoned your pajama top yourself!” recognizes a new skill and shares in the child’s own joy. “Good job,” suggests more interest in the phone in your hand than the child. And if that “good job” is repeated the next fifty times the child buttons that pajama top it has the appeal of cod liver oil.

When children appropriately shoulder responsibility as they should, by taking care of themselves and contributing to the household, to my ears the phrase, “Good job,” is demeaning rather than elevating. I certainly wouldn’t use those words on a colleague or my spouse. I expect them to be competent. I can and should express appreciation for what they do, but that is very different from sounding like an apathetic cheerleader faking excitement. Even more, children’s own excitement at what they do is tamped down rather than stoked by words meant to build self-esteem rather than allowing them to naturally build self-respect.

Am I way off base here? Am I sounding like the dowager appalled at the use of “awful” or “cool” when those words newly entered the language? Should I just go grab a cup of calming chamomile tea and silence my complaints? Or is it possible that the evolution of our language is reflecting a negative trend that some of us might choose to reject?


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Al Hoffman says:

You be right. Me thinks Dis iz a twange apoloGee! Doesn’t really spell out true regret. However, we have met some who’s hearts are there,but haven’t the right vocabulary.

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a large part of the problem. We are not equipping people to have adequate vocabulary and practice expressing themselves.

Al Hoffman says:

Our repeat of errors worstens with every replication.
A major newspaper’s reporting has at times, run-on sentences, making private misinterpretation of fact possible.

H- says:

I grew up as an ambitious young woman but I would be mocked because I tried to ‘sound white’, in other words, use proper diction and grammar and a large vocabulary. I stay away from people who belittle my ambitions or resent them these days. Parents should instill this in their kids character.

Susan Lapin says:

It is sad how some people make themselves large by trying to tear other people down.

Kristy says:

Hi Mrs.Lapin, I agree with you. Thank you for your insight. I’m sure I have been guilty of saying ‘good job’ when I needed to be more specific with my compliments, a time or two! Another phrase that is very common that I don’t care for is ‘no worries’. Do you have a thought about that phrase? Thanks 😀

Susan Lapin says:

I haven’t been paying attention to that one, Kristy. I’ll have to listen for it.

Carl Pearlston says:

Another one that bothers me is when the x-ray tech or dental assistant or nurse says “Perfect”, when asking you to hold your arm or head or whatever in some pose. Seems to be part of their training.
I always tell them that perfection is a goal to work toward, and rarely achieved, and should not be trivialized when what is really meant is “fine”, “good”, or “OK”.
When explained, they always agree with me, but not sure how long the lesson lasts.

Susan Lapin says:

Glad to know I’m not the only curmudgeon around, Carl.

David Altschuler says:

Dear Susan,
Re you 2nd point, “Good job” would seem appropriate in some circumstances. At least it’s not the efficient abuse of syntax of “My bad” which seems to come from the same American sub-culture as fist bumping, which took hold after “high 5-ing” was deemed an insufficiently crude replacement for the gentlemanly hand-shake. (When I’m offered a fist after a racquetball game, I always grasp his fist in my open hand and smile as if everything is as it used to be. No matter whether I won or not, no matter the ethnicity of my opponent.)
What both your observed social phenomena and mine have in common is the reduction of detail, warmth, and accepted tradition. Societal behaviors and expressions do change – we don’t want to always reject them, but it would be nice to see a few of these social updates move in the direction of more time, more warmth, or more respect.

Susan Lapin says:

You must get some very strange looks on the racquetball court. I agree that ‘good job’ is sometimes appropriate. But not as a broken record. I like your summation in the final paragraph.

Mark says:

Well put.

Agree with you totally with “my bad.” It’s trite and avoids taking responsibility.
However, I always thought “good job” was a nice thing to say–as long as it’s not overused. It encourages a child and lets him know mama noticed what he did. Too many times we are frequently critical of children when they don’t do something right, but forget to notice when they do. “Good Job” does that without overdoing it.
Thanks for your comments. I often read them. CG

Susan Lapin says:

As I’m seeing from these comments, different phrases trigger different reactions in each of us.


another one is “no problem ” instead of “you’re welcome”.. Would the due diligence have been a problem? You mention awful which millennia ago used to mean “full of awe” .. Perhaps there’s the societal problem that writing and language skills have been dumbed down..

Susan Lapin says:

I haven’t thought about that one, James. I knew about awful coming from full of awe from the book, Little Women. It’s fun finding the derivation of different terms and words.

Good job. 😉 And here’s another annoyance: “No problem.” I appreciate your skill, developed talent and your commitment to express yourself.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks, Michele. Your words always mean a lot to me.

Craig Curtis says:

You are most definitely not alone in your feeling that “My bad” is a trivialization. I spent the fifteen years as a Juvenile Corrections Officer and that was one phrase (among many – not to mention the prolific profanity) I cringed to hear. I let the minors know I found that to be an unacceptable phrase because of its trivial nature (not to mention the poor use of English). I expected them to take responsibility and respond with, “I’m sorry.” “That was my fault.” Or some other phrase that would show they alone were to blame for what happened. In my final year in corrections, I taught a course based on John G. Miller’s QBQ book and the corresponding I Own It curriculum on personal accountability. By the end of the course I had a few of them at least using proper terminology, and true phrases expressing responsibility.

Susan Lapin says:

If you were able to affect a few lives for the better and guide them to a future, you did a tremendous thing, Craig. That’s an amazing perspective to have.

Catie says:

May I add?
“No problem”
Instead of
Need I say anymore?

Susan Lapin says:

Clearly, no problem is resonating with many people. I admit that I haven’t been bothered by it, but I will increase my sensitivity now.

Joyce Redos says:

Accuracy in verbally expressing appreciation for someone’s effort is the beginning. I have another pet peeve. Too often people are very lackadaisical about the social graces of a written RSVP or a written thank you, particularly in response to receiving hospitality. A host’s efforts in opening their home for an overnight guest or preparing a meal are taken for granted all too often to judge by the failure of people to send a written expression of their appreciation. The worst part is there doesn’t seem to be a gracious way to let people know this failure is a failure. Any thoughts you have on that would be greatly appreciated.

Susan Lapin says:

Ouch, Joyce. I used to be meticulous about thank-you cards, but I have been aware of lapsing in the past few years. You are absolutely correct.

Tom Trelenberg says:

I have a different take on this one. My mother often goes on and on about not receiving a thank-you card for things like graduations or weddings (or sometimes they come, but not in her expected time frame). I tell her that it was my impression that she sent these as gifts. If a thank-you note is required she should state that acceptance of the “gift” is contingent on a card being returned–it certainly seems that the way it works out that she is expecting an exchange, which while nice, to my mind makes the original offering no longer a gift but an advance.

I’m not arguing that we all like to receive an acknowledgement, but to expect something in return makes these things a trade, not gifts or hospitality. Often, when I have a dinner or overnight guest they will ask what they can bring or what they can do. I usually reply “nothing” and that is what I mean. If it is going to sour the relationship if no “thank you” is received, perhaps it would be best to say that the cost of the meal or bed is a formal thank you. I think the lack of a “gracious way to let people know this failure is a failure” is because they receive it as a gift, whereas you expect compensation, even if that compensation is a thank-you card.

An alternate opinion…take it for what it is worth.

Susan Lapin says:

Tom, I think that, as in many areas of life, the thank-you card is not for the sake of the host but for the sake of the guest. I don’t expect thank-you cards when people stay at our house or come for a meal (though I do appreciate them when they come), but when I don’t write a thank-you I think it diminishes me as a person. I agree with you that giving should be done graciously and not with expectations of getting something in return.

Lyna says:

Your phrase “…not for the sake of the host but for the sake of the guest.” reminded me of a teaching I’ve heard about the tithe and giving. that God does not ‘need’ our gifts, (He’s the Creator!) but WE need to give, to open our hands and hearts. WE need to be thankful, to remember and articulate at least some of His blessings to us (Psalm 103:2).
A thank you note when I receive a gift is as much for my benefit as to benefit the giver. One who receives without acknowledgement and without giving in turn, becomes like the Salt Sea; inflow with no outflow trends toward death. There are many examples of cycles, receive-retain-release-repeat, in physical and spiritual life. and all phases are needed.
Every thank you note is one more point of light pushing back against decline!

Joyce Redos says:

You make a good point as to hospitality extended to friends. Let me throw a bit of a curve ball. I served as the hospitality point person for my congregation for several years. That meant I arranged for homes for visitors, sometimes single individuals, sometimes families, while they visited us. The families who opened their homes often went to a great deal of trouble, not just making sure their homes were in good order, but providing for dietary needs, etc. Ninety five percent of the time everything went beautifully. Guests often brought unsolicited hostess gifts and at the end of the stay not only did the hosts receive thank you notes, but so would the congregation for making the arrangements. However, the remaining five percent were often more problematic and they usually left with no acknowledgement to their hosts of the graciousness extended them by the hosts opening their homes to strangers. It may partly be due to that experience that I feel so strongly, but in any case, there you have it. It is not that a host expects the note but that the guest is expressing recognition of the effort expended to make the stay pleasant or the meal exceptional for the pleasure of the guest.

Debbie says:

Tom, I totally agree with you. One should not “expect” a formal Thank You note. However, if one is received, how wonderful. If one is not received, no big deal. On your own part, if you were wonderfully served, why not send a formal Than You – how wonderful for the recipient – how thoughtful of you to express yourself in such a manner. And how wonderful to teach another generation the grace of saying Thank You in a formal, written way.

Dear Susan,

I’m once again feeling validated in what I see as the dumbing down of our society. The idea that ‘my bad’ sometimes with embarrassed smirk; and often enough without any show of contrition is acceptable behavior rankles me, beyond words.

I was raised to be polite to the people in my family, co-workers, employers…..and of course those who serve us in stores and restaurants. It seems that those who will not take responsibility for their missteps, also have a difficult time showing proper gratitude, as well.

Once again you hit the nail on the head. Thank you for sharing with us.

Linda Newberry

Susan Lapin says:

Linda, that’s a very interesting idea, and I believe true, that gratitude and acknowledgment of responsibility are linked. In fact, we’ve written about the Hebrew words for ‘admitting’ and ‘thank-you’ sharing the same root.

Shira Dourte says:

Well said. For those who care about the effective use of words in our “dumbed down” culture, I recommend the book ” Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies” by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre.

Susan Lapin says:

I love book recommendations, Shira. Thanks.

Celesta says:

Mrs. Lapin,

Yes, I cannot stand “My bad” either, nor the aforementioned “No worries”, and “Good job” is vaguely unspecific and impersonal indeed, although I had never thought of it in that way!!!

You should also write a musing about the subtle brainwashing techniques the lovely ladies at the department store counters are obviously trained to parrot out. Whenever I go shopping at _____ (fill in name of upscale department store) (that in retrospect, thankfully still exists and hasn’t been e-extincted yet by online shopping) (and incidentally, one that has not snubbed Ivanka Trump’s products either), the sweet checkers-out 1. take time to tell admire each of my purchases and just HOW beautiful they are [and how they would coordinate so well with x, y, or z that I didn’t notice on the rack and should really turn around right now and purchase] and hence how magnificent my taste it, but my real gripe is 2. then they give me my receipt and say, “And you SAVED $120.00 today!” Now you know as well as I do that I am leaving said dept. store with LESS money than when I entered said dept. store. So I always politely say back, with a big smile, “No, I SPENT $200.00 today!” (And I mean I ALWAYS say it back!) Do you know that only ONE salesperson EVER has laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re right!” Every other one has, in a reprimanding fashion said back to me, “No, you SAVED $120.00”, as though I should be ashamed for my ungratefulness!!! What is so irritating is 1. it’s dishonesty and manipulation, albeit maybe a very simple issue, and 2. I guess corporate headquarters of everywhere think that the public are very unintelligent, easily suggestible, and easily led lemmings, who need to be patted on the back for their purchases and then led to believe that they actually can MAKE MONEY by shopping at their store!!!!!! Sweet accommodating ladies, yes, but try to ruffle their “matrix” and boy they get itchy!!! (Meaning, I am sure it is part of their training, so they don’t know what to do when someone tells them no I SPENT money today ma’am!) Sigh…dishonesty from the highest levels on down!! And I am sure that you have probably read Noah Webster’s introduction to one of his original dictionaries, where he expounds on the preservation of language and how when its proper usage is abandoned, that societies begin to drift farther from God and from integrity in all areas of their beings. A VERY VERY VERY important read for everyone!!! CURMUDGEONS UNITE!!!!!

Susan Lapin says:

This made me laugh, Celesta. The supermarket checkers always tell me how much I’ve saved and I never thought of responding as you do – but perhaps I will. I always laugh at stores that call me a ‘guest’ instead of a ‘customer,’ though I’m inconsistent since I do accept being a guest at a hotel. Hmmm. I’ll have to think that one through. Thanks for the suggestion about Noah Webster’s words.

Alta Barnard says:

When I was a child, we had family friends of whom the wife loved shopping at sales. Her husband said she “saves him bankrupt” (directly translated – they were not native English speakers). Today when I shop, it is always with that expression in the back of my mind.

James says:

Your misgivings are right on target, of course. The conundrum with the downgrading or ‘leveling’ of language reminds me of a certain professor during the early 1970’s in the vanguard of the New Age who criticized tomatoes from his own garden because he had heard that as a food source they possessed “too much yin and not enough yang.” Pardon me? Too much hydrogen ion and not enough hydroxide ion? Or what? Let’s reduce all conceivable nutritive possibilities to one indigestible dichotomy of Far-East formative thinking.

Is this consistent with the diffusion and deactivation of personal responsibility? Of course it is. The erosive damage to concepts becomes contagious. Just as science, cause and effect become gelatinous and nebulous, so human causality and responsibility become depersonalized and diffused: A standard template of generic apology is neither sufficient nor sincere, nor even satisfying.
“I am so sorry for what I did to you.” (My bad!)
“Fine. But first tell me what you have done!”
This phenomenon is closely allied with man’s search for meaning. A genuine apology requires recognition and admission of what wrong one has done. Members of my family and I have strained and terminated friendships because ‘friends’ forced us to apologize without our knowing for what we must apologize. Cross-cultural taboos and ‘tacit’ (unwritten) expectations were largely responsible. Thank you for ferreting out a pervasive problem with our language today.

Susan Lapin says:

Good point, James, that it’s easy to apologize or demand an apology, but both parties agreeing on the problem is a needed first step.

Karen Boswell says:

As always you are right on the money with this musing….

I ‘suffered’ the opposite…if I got a 99…it was ‘why didn’t you get a 100’? ….

Since my parents are now so much smarter than they were when I was 14 (lol) , it was tough then BUT now I soooo appreciate what they did. They wanted me to reach my full potential and they had confidence that if I applied myself, I could get 100. I learned to try and I learned to succeed.

Had my parents applauded my every breath, I would be little more than a potted plant and have no doubt I would have the manners and ‘confidence’ of one (potted plant)

Susan Lapin says:

That certainly is the opposite extreme, Karen. I’m glad you can appreciate your parents now but I’m not sure I would recommend their method for everyone. They must have known that you were greatly capable.

Cindy says:

I’ve never liked, “My bad”. It sounds juvenile….especially coming from my almost 70 year old co-worker/friend! “Good job” can rightly be used in some instances, but I also like to be more specific about what, at this point my grandchildren, did well. Saying thank you for something specific is also nice. One of those little bugaboos my husband sometimes does is just say “Thank you”. Now, I often do a number of things through the day that he could be thankful for….but I don’t like having to say, “For what?” 🙂

Susan Lapin says:

On the other hand, Cindy, if that’s your husband’s worst offense you are well off. 🙂

Mark Lampe says:

Mrs Lapin,
One thing that has been bothering me as of late is the great number of times a woman has said to me, “I’m sorry” when they have found that they might have inconvenienced me in a doorway, or bumping shopping carts in the grocery aisle. It comes across as extremely self-deprecating, and I’m wondering where in the world that is coming from? I know that I’m not an ogre or a curmudgeonly type, just the opposite really. I sometimes feel like responding by saying, “No dear, you have nothing to be sorry for!”

Susan Lapin says:

Ah, Mark, women say, “I’m sorry” to closets that they bump into.

Shira Dourte says:

Ok. This observation delights me. So true and soooooo funny!

Lori says:

I agree with the recommendation to have a look at Webster’s. Try the 1828 Webster’s dictionary. It is outdated in some ways but oh so pertinent in many other aspects. Words have meaning.

Susan Lapin says:

Clearly it’s time for me to look at Webster again, Lori.

JimB says:

“Whatever.” said in a dismissive tone. I read through all the comments without seeing that one. How’s this for an apology? “I’m sorry you took that the wrong way.” We’re still communicating but, we’re not saying very nice things to each other. ‘Nuff said! Yeah, like that’s the way to win an argument. Let’s not get started on “lol” and the rest of those acronimicalized (I made that up) sentences. I can hardly wait for your next musing as I’m sure it will relieve the sense of doom this one (and its accompanying comments) has invoked. I have faith that “This too shall pass”.

Susan Lapin says:

Glad you’re an optimist, Jim.

Becca says:

I always enjoy reading the posts here, but I have to respectfully say that maybe you should go for that cup of tea and ease up a little bit. I completely understand where you are coming from, but the tone in your article comes across as overly critical and a little priggish in the opinion of others who do not communicate in the way in which you may. I so enjoy reading the articles of yours and the Rabbi’s in part to expose myself to a varied and rich vocabulary use that I myself do not possess. You are both truly blessed to have such a keen aptitude for words and the understanding of how to use them better than most in certain situations. It is a noble pursuit for us all to try to expand our vocabulary and come up with more creative ways to speak to one another. Unfortunately for some, eloquent and thoughtful speech was not the marinade growing up and for others “good job” and “my bad” are much welcomed words by the recipients in situations where the motive behind them is sincere. Although I do understand and agree with the gist of your comments and even with your frustration, I feel quite possibly a better way to make an impact on others might be to voice the frustration without such harsh criticism to those who may not fully realize their need for an upgrade in thier communication skills. After all your following and sphere of influence consists of an audience like myself who by taking the time to read and admire both your and the Rabbi’s fluent and expressive speech are inspired to expand and improve our own. Have that tea and stay positive in your criticism. With that said I’d like to share how much I enjoy reading your opinions and am sincerely grateful for the work that you and the Rabbi share. It’s educational, entertaining and always a blessing!

Susan Lapin says:

That’s one of the nicest criticisms I’ve ever gotten, Becca. Your point is well taken and I appreciate your taking the time to explain it so well.

Gordy Beil says:

Right on the money. “My bad” is a disingenuous throw away phrase. We should work hard to make sure that our words (and actions) convey the desired meaning. There are times that I think that I’m trapped in Facebookistan and can’t get out! Anyways, I’ve got to go. -Gordy

Susan Lapin says:

Our methods of communication as we move from letters and speech to Facebook and Twitter definitely reduce our ability to communicate with depth. I know many friends who got off Facebook for that reason, among others.

Edward Rubinstein says:

Dear Susan,

Even though we’ve never met, you always introduce yourself on your podcasts as Susan, and so it seems to be appropriate for me to address you that way.

I cannot tell you what a delightful breath of fresh air you give to me, and I’m sure to a multitude as well. You hone in on what at first glance may seem to be a minor point, yet you’re able to expound that small point to represent a much larger, and unfortunately bleaker, picture of the human condition.

I completely agree with your assessment, even though I’ve never taken the time to consider such short, curt phrases we now have grown so accustomed to using.

One last thought—I noticed that you answer each and every comment, and in a completely thoughtful manner. It wasn’t just a “thanks for your thoughts” answer. If 10% of the population had the integrity that you and Rabbi Lapin have, how incredibly better we all would be.

Thank you again, Susan, for all that you do.

Susan Lapin says:

Edward – I do go by Susan to people above the age of 18 or so. My husband and I really appreciate the relationships we forge with readers and people who listen to our programs and then take the time to let us get to know them a bit by writing to us. There are weeks that we can’t manage to answer in depth but we enjoy a conversation more than having the communication go only in one direction.

Paul R says:

Susan, I find myself in agreement with your being repulsed at trite meaningless trite phrases that are multiplying in American social interaction. I could list several other phrases that are jam packed with meaningless drivel. I shall refrain. You have nailed it.

There is one phrase that I personally wrestle with. Many have used it in this forum. I am a Vietnam Vet. While serving in the as a Marine I was often assailed with caustic verbal abuse. There was a good deal of animosity over our involvement in Vietnam and many thought, at the time, those in the military were responsible. I just ignored the insults. I recall being spat upon and called a baby killer by a young lady while I was in transit to Camp Pendelton before being sent to Asia. I just let it go and I knew it was a mostly meaningless insult thrown out by someone who just said it but really did not mean it or understand what was said at the time. My father, a Cherokee whose family had to leave Oklahoma in 1938 during the Dust Bowl because the family farm had blown away, and some today might say because of the treatment of Native Americans he should have hated America, willingly joined the Navy in February of 1942 because he loved this country and enlisted very shortly after Imperial Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He taught my brother and I love of country and that when our time came we had an obligation to serve. Both my brother and I did so not to be noticed or wanting recognition. We did it because it was our duty. Simply our duty. I firmly believe that being a soldier is a calling of God. Doing what one is called to do is just what is owed and needs no recognition. That’s my own deep felt conviction.

I know that many today, perhaps even with genuine feelings of thankfulness, I don’t really know, will thank a veteran for their service. I think most often it is done as something to say without any real thought, understanding, feeling or conviction. It is one of those things I would add to the list of thoughtless sayings that usually, not always, but to often, I believe, are just thrown out as something to say and nothing more.

Susan Lapin says:

I appreciate your sharing your family history and our country would be better for having more patriots like you. I am not in your shoes, but I think that when people make a point of thanking someone in the military for their service it is precisely in response to a feeling of shame over how badly our soldiers were treated in the Vietnam years. People want to acknowledge the person and that in itself is meaningful.

Joyce Redos says:

Paul R.,
As someone who comes from generations of family who have fought for this nation, including two cousins who served in Vietnam Nam, and others who fight today in the Middle East, I am always thankful for the opportunity to thank those who serve or have served. So I thank you for your service because men like you and your father and brother are the bulwark of freedom for this nation. May God bless you, sir.

Timothy Mauch says:

At my last job, I was working in
one state, and my immediate supervisor was a couple of states away. I didn’t work for the local managers.

I had no prior experience doing some of my tasks, so we talked a lot by phone. When I finished the new tasks, he always responded with “Good job!” We were roughly the same age, and I assumed (silly me!) that it meant the same, to him, as it did to me.

I found out otherwise, a few months later, when they fired me for not doing my job. He came up with a long laundry list, mostly minor things that I could have easily done, if they had told me.

I found out, later, that it wouldn’t have made any difference. An independent contractor in the area told me that corporation was notorious for stringing people along for six months, then firing them with no notice and fake reasons.

Karma got them, in the end. The corporation went bankrupt a couple of years later, and they all found themselves in the unemployment line.

Susan Lapin says:

I hope you found a better company to work with, Timothy.

Mark says:

You’re brave, Susan. You might be opening Pandora’s Box with your subject this week.

I suppose I must have a touch of the curmudgeon myself because there is a growing list of words and expressions that I’ve heard more and more frequently in recent years which drive me up the wall.

Two related but not identical catch phrases that I find aggravating are “It’s all good”, and “Hey, change is good!” In response to the latter I always think, and sometimes reply to the person who said it, “Really? Doesn’t that depend upon the change? If you get struck by a car today while crossing the street, and you end up in the hospital, in intensive care, with multiple fractures, that would be change, but would it be good?” People usually laugh, and often say some variation of, “Wow, I never thought of it like that before.”

Much more sensible to me is the Chinese proverb, “Be careful what you desire. You may get it.”

Susan Lapin says:

Mark, you are spot on about change and that is why B. Obama promising change was always a scary thought to me.

Barbara Vissers says:

I appreciate your observations. The phrase, “My bad” is especially irritating to me for the reasons that you mentioned. Also, I will be mindful of being more descriptive in the way I comment or encourage others in a job well done.

Susan Lapin says:

I don’t even know where “my bad” originated, but it does rankle me.

Norman Gordon says:

Another ubiquitous use of the phrase ‘good Job’ that rankles is in regard to the performance by a bar mitzvah. I have never considered that a ‘job’. It is an accomplishment. It is something of which to be proud, but it is not a ‘job’.

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a valid distinction, Norman.


Dear Miss Susan: While I mostly agree with you on the use of Phrases such as “My Bad” and “Good Job”, I also see them as shorthand affirmation of performance and regret. Sometimes there is not an opportunity to fully spell out what the good job was at the time. Your son runs off the court after a great play. You clap him on the shoulder and say “Good Job!” as he heads for the water bottle. You look over the shoulder of an employee and say “Good Job” as he is immersed in a difficult task that you do not want to interupt but feel as if he needs some encouragement. Although at a later time, when the game is over, or the task completed, you need to be specific as to the particulars of the achievement, sometimes a quick “atta boy” is called for in the instant.
The same with “My bad.” Sometimes the situation calls for an expression of regret but the circumstances don’t allow for a full Mea cuppa. Sometimes a quick “My Bad” is a quick way of saying ” I am sorry that I gave you instructions or directions that were unclear and I will endeavor to clear up the confusion. as soon as possible.” It is the same as saying ” I am sorry” when you bump into someone, Or excuse me when you invade someone’s privacy and need to withdraw as quickly as possible. Shorthand has a place, to be filled out more completely later and not to be over used.
Bill bBrower

Susan Lapin says:

I appreciate your defense of the terms, William. I’ll mark a yes vote in the, “Am I a curmudgeon?” box.

Mountain Queen says:

I wish more people would read this. When I worked for Blue Shield of California and they bought CareAmerica, management adopted a CareAmerica recognition program that awarded employees monthly for doing their job. I was asked to be on the Los Angeles group’s committee and those in my office didn’t want to participate in this childish behavior. I kept telling management no one liked this program and finally the adults were excused from the children’s table and we didn’t have to participate. This should be a good example of why healthcare is in such a mess.

LJ says:

I dislike the use of many terms without context. It also reminds me to appreciate translation problems (for instance, when you and RDL said that you would cross out all of the “unclean” English Bible terms because they do not properly translate the truth(s) or point(s) they were meant to convey.)

Another problem I’ve had to deal with was when a person said to me, “I’m sorry you feel that way” after I requested an apology for a specific offense. The person didn’t take any responsibility for it! It was a pretend apology, or even a sarcastic apology, that basically said to me that the problem was with me.

I’m also particularly bothered when people abuse the term Capitalism and so I speak to people only about the term capital (I am an economist, after all.) Many folks can’t even define capital. I’ll say to people that it is what one owns–land, labor, bank account(s), personal property(ies)–individually or collectively. Capital can be used to invest for profit; hopefully it will be wisely used because God doesn’t want us to allow His resources to be wasted or plundered.

I think that you might also appreciate these thoughts from the past, as they relate to the reason(s) for the corruption of language. (Actually, George Orwell also spoke of language having a direct relationship to political speech with the goal of economic gain for those in power.)

The following quotes are taken from paragraphs one and two, page 174, The Road To Serfdom by F.A. Hayek – Fiftieth Anniversary Edition Paperback

“In this particular case the perversion of the meaning of the word has, of course, been well prepared by a long line of German philosophers and, not least, by many of the theoreticians of socialism. But “freedom” or “liberty” are by no means the only words whose meaning has been changed into their opposites to make them serve as instruments of totalitarian propaganda. We have already seen how the same happens to “justice” and “law,” “right” and “equality.” The list could be extended until it includes almost all moral and political terms in general use.

If one has not one’s self experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion which it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion which it creates. It has to be seen to be understood how, if one of two brothers embraces the new faith, after a short while he appears to be speaking a different language which makes any real communication between them impossible. And the confusion becomes worse because this change of meaning of the words describing political ideals is not a single event but a continuous process, a technique employed consciously or unconsciously to direct the people. Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.”
Finally, on a lighter note: we sometimes copy sayings when we hear them, and we have great fun with it. I had done a certain Los Angeles hispanic accent for fun, and then I saw the animated movie: “Turbo” involving a snail who wants to race; there are two L.A. Hispanic humans in the film and my accent sounded like them! It was validation for my family that I could copy the accent accurately. It was also fun because as a youth I saw a couple of L.A. races at the very place seen in the film. Another children’s film that was funny to me is “Surf’s Up.” I admittedly enjoyed the accuracy of the surf culture being portrayed in the movie and a couple of real surfers make comments in this film. Actually, “Surf’s Up” most likely goes over the head of most children unless they are familiar with the culture. It was created as an animated “surfumentary” (a documentary about surfing.) I’ve actually seen a real surf documentary that I had checked out from Mercer Island’s public library of all places.

phil fischer says:

As I was reading your interesting musing, I knew that your second phrase would be “just saying”, and was surprised by the valid point about “good job”. I hear “just saying” used as often as “my bad” and its even worse than a non-apology in that it is the speaker giving themselves permission to be offensive.

H- says:

You have may ‘yay’.
I have always felt like this in regards to the effort I would put into details and how I can help or make someone’s day better. To which my spoiled friends and family would reply ‘thanks’. Sometimes even complain ‘well so and so got this’. I used to put up with it. This year I have decided that they can all go climb a tree.

No you are not being unreasonable mrs Lapin, there is a trend of expecting much and giving a distracted ‘good job’ in return. You know alot of people don’t even do that.

This was prophesied in 2 Timothy 2-4. knowing it will come is one thing. Seeing it happen is another.

But mrs Lapin. I have noticed that if you do the right thing for years, people won’t forget it and actually return the favor if you give them room to lament on all you did for them.

Warren Berstler says:

You are not alone! But coming from a generation which used the words cool and neat as a way to something really nice or wonderful; I can appreciate what you’re saying. So much has changed since my teen years in the 70’s. Like, when did “bad” become the new cool (great)? I guess we can understand the prophecies when it said that good would become bad and visa versa. And the language used while texting is something totally alien to most of us “older folks”.

Pamela W says:

Speaking of “Thank you”, every time I find myself using profanity, I listen to the “Perils of Profanity” CD. When I need kick my rear end in gear, I read “Thou Shalt Prosper”. I admire your gifted command of language, Mrs. Lapin.

My pet peeve is hearing four “Bless yous” when someone sneezes, even while listening to a speaker or a sermon!

Susan Lapin says:

I’m glad Perils of Profanity and Thou Shall Prosper are helpful. I don’t mind “bless you” at all and actually like it, though it certainly shouldn’t interfere with a speech going on.

Allan katz says:

spot on – check …

Susan Lapin says:

Allan, I have a general rule of deleting links which I was about to do automatically when I saw Alfie Kohn’s name on the link you gave. As a homeschooler, I know that name. I decided to take the link out anyway but I would encourage people involved with children to go to his site and to read his books. They can look up his article on the phrase ‘good job’ (that was the link you sent) but I think it’s worth getting familiar with his philosophy in general.

Lora says:

Perhaps I can help! My children tell me that my special super power is instantly turning the latest cool slang into the most uncool saying ever simply by using it once. I wield my power carefully, as one day I may no longer be the uncool middle aged suburban housewife that I so supremely enjoy being at the moment.
Excellent post, and your points are spot on. The comments from other readers were enlightening as well. I have used many of those phrases before, and I consider them sloppy or lazy-most of the time. Sometimes they really do serve as a verbal short hand, and sometimes it helps to speak (within reason) at someone’s level as you slowly help lift them.
Personally, I have been working on my own language. I have worked many slang terms out of my life because so many come from such questionable sources. These ones mentioned here are more for me to work on. Our language is directly connected with both our thoughts and actions. We can’t lose that personal agency.

Susan Lapin says:

What a wonderful superpower, Lora. Imagine if you could expand it so that supporting a candidate would be the death knell for that person. I too find that I need to monitor my speech. Some slang words are so prevalent that they worm their way into my mouth and I’m shocked to hear them come out.

Mark H. says:

I’m a little behind in providing input on this one, but wanted to add to the list the use of “I lied” vs. “I was mistaken.” I’ve lost count of the number of times on of my co-workers or subordinates have come in stating, “Sir, I lied when I told you …” and relay that they had previously told me something they thought at the time to be correct, but have since found that information to be incorrect. That is significantly different than the willful intention to deceive.
Considering the prohibition against lying made into the L-rd’s ‘Top Ten List’, I am bothered when its seriousness is diminished to the level of an honest, low-impact mistake. Also, people do not realize they are speaking to their own personal integrity and character when they use that phrase. I have replied, “Mistakes can be corrected. Lying is cause for termination!”

Susan Lapin says:

Ooh, ooh, yes – this one bothers me too. My exercise teacher uses it all the time when she makes a mistake in calling the number of repetitions we’ll be doing and the music continues when she expected it to change or end.

Dale Trembley says:

“Good job! Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy? You are! Yes your are!”

For some reason his parents looked at me, strangely irritated at my praise . . .


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