Going to Be Good

This article will be good. Cupcakes are good. I have good grades in school. My friend is good. All that’s good, but what do I mean by “good”?

When we say that something or someone is “good”, we have positive, esteemed opinions about what we are referring to. For example, suppose after you watch a movie, you think, “That was a good movie.” We can tell that you really liked that movie, and you have respect for that movie to a certain level. Every day, we use “good” copiously to describe many things in our lives, whether it be in our writing, speech, or ideas. But there’s more to the word “good” than just being a compliment, and this ambiguous word can suggest so many different things. It’s not always enough to declare something as “good”, because its denotation may not always capture the complete meaning behind your ideas and it does not always apply in the same way for everyone.

A Good Time to Use “Good”

“Good” is a very vague word and does not specify what exactly is positive about something. “Good” can take on different meanings in different contexts; you can find qualities of an object that are “good” for different reasons. If I said that a cake is good, there are multiple things that I could mean:

  1. The cake looks good, or the decoration on the cake is really pretty
  2. The cake tastes good (chocolate is the best!)
  3. The cake smells good
  4. The texture of the cake is good (who doesn’t love a soft, spongy cake?)

Notice how “good” is used in each of these descriptions, but it points to a different thing. Because there are multiple meanings behind “good”, every time you present your opinion, try using a more precise word that is specific to the quality that it describes. For example, if I wanted to point out the taste of the cake, instead of “good”, I could say: “The cake is delicious”, or “The cake tastes sweet”. This way, you know that I’m talking about how much I loooovvvveee the taste of chocolate cake.

Another example of an unclear usage of “good” appears in The Hobbit when Bilbo wishes Gandalf a good morning and Gandalf replies,

“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

What exactly makes the morning good? Why should the morning be good? It’s a simple greeting, but to whom does it apply? Is there a better word you could use to make the meaning clear?

Let’s replace “good” with “Beautiful”, so then you would say “Beautiful morning”. By replacing good with a descriptive word, I would be able to infer that you’re talking about the weather, the scenery, etc.

In formal writing, always try to avoid the use of the word “good” (unless it appears in direct quotes from a source, then you can’t really change it). “Good” sounds elementary, and we do have a larger vocabulary span than such basic words. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use “good” in their essays or articles because exactly what they are thinking, or what perspective they have is unclear since “good” is quite flimsy (okay, I know what you’re thinking. I’m using the word “good” because I’m trying to explain why you shouldn’t! Stop it. I’m not a hypocrite). If you’re expressing your opinion about something, try not to say what was good and what was bad, because that doesn’t really say much; add some more depth to your statement. Some terms in my vocabulary include: controversial, beneficial, unreasonable, quixotic, effective, predictable, ulterior [intentions], and rebellious. Using thorough words with specific meanings not only makes your writing formal and advanced, but it also shows the reader that you have clarity in your thoughts.

Banish “good” from your vocabulary. It doesn’t exist. “Very good” doesn’t count either (haha, gotcha!)

Other terms to describe quality (to replace “good”):
vivid, vibrant, delicious, pungent, fragrant, satisfactory, musical, soft, peaceful, thunderous, cheerful, ecstatic, beautiful/handsome, sharp, warm, comfortable, cozy, studious, energetic, dedicated, strong, supportive, excellent

Bottom line: Don’t use “good” in your writing or when speaking because though it is a positive word, it makes things unclear.

My Good, Your Bad

We all have our own standards and our own definitions of what is right for us. In a basic definition, something is “good” when it helps us, and that thing or person is different for each person. Our background, our expectations of ourselves, and our dreams set personal standards that we must meet to feel satisfied.

When we use “good” as a measure of quality, such as a “good” test score, a “good” job, or even what you might consider a “good” book, it can often become an umbrella and become the bar for everyone, not just one person. In some cases, this can lead to the growth and development of a community; on the other hand, a general standard makes several people vulnerable to bullying and discrimination.

From the perspective of a student, a common example of this is that an A is a “good” grade to receive on a test, and any grade below that is disgraceful. On one hand, this pushes students to work harder to do their best and earn an A, but…

When they don’t, they may feel like they aren’t good enough, or that they are dumb (which is totally NOT TRUE). So what do we do?

It’s important to keep high standards of oneself and the community because that’s the only way we can motivate ourselves to strive for success. At the same time, understand and accept that each person has personal goals that will help them meet the higher standards. Don’t judge and condemn others just because they don’t meet your standards. If the results of their work make them happy, then that’s what’s important.

Recently, we had our final exams, and the first exam I took was for science. I was elated to have received a 97%. When I asked one of my classmates what he got, he told me he had a score of 63%. If I had gotten this score, I would be horrified and disappointed in myself, probably fearing the wrath of my parents. But my classmate was perfectly happy with this score as long as he still passed the class. If he was happy, then his score didn’t really matter to me; I just gave him a high-five, celebrating the end of the first final.

You don’t always know the background of other people, and people don’t know your background either. It’s not fair to judge each other based on individual standards. Decide what’s good for you and aim to do the best you can (or even beyond) because, in the end, the only thing that matters is what makes you happy.

So...What’s Good?

Does this mean that “good” is a bad word? No. It’s just not the best word to use. How can you use “good”? Use it to encourage, rather than define.

“Good” is a positive word, so use it in that way. Tell your parents they’ve been good (or how about supportive and kind?) parents. Tell your friends they’ve been good (maybe funny, loyal, and caring?) friends.

By using “good” in the right way, whether it be in writing or in words, we can spread some “good”ness in the world! 🙂

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