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I've come across this one in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. One character often used shouted "Good thinking, that man!" as a praise.

Is this a real English regionalism?

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My BrE is a bit fuzzy, but I think "good thinking that man" could be related to the regionalism "good thinking, that". In that sentence, the speaker is saying "that thinking is good". In "good thinking that man", he is (could be) saying "that man is thinking good". A Pratchettesque exchange might go something like: "Oy, why's that soldier got a spike on 'is 'elmet?" / "Why, he's been standing at attention for three days, sir. It's t'keep the pigeons off." / "Good thinking, that man." –  Dan Bron Aug 12 at 12:54
    
Can anyone confirm the punctuation is now exactly as in the printed book in question? Cheers! –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 6:43
    
Hi MariLou, you misunderstand me. Notice I say "the punctuation". There was an earlier discussion about the comma in the phrase in question. Originally the OP typed it with no comma. Various people have claimed that in the book the comma exists is in various places. I want someone to post a screenshot showing the exact punctuation of the phrase seen in the printed books. That's all I was saying just here just now. –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 7:52
    
@JoeBlow Why is the punctuation relevant? The Op is inquiring about the expression/catchphrase, not whether a comma is needed or not. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 13 at 9:27
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Hey MariLou! I think it's odd to ask why the punctuation is relevant. if the comma is after "that" it suggests the first three words is a common phrase, and he is idly adding ", man" on the end (not unlike ", dude!" today). if the comma is after thinking, that slightly suggests the "batman" (puts "that man" together) interpretation .. and so on. Sure, it's important. –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 9:46

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It's Terry Pratchett, so I think we can safely say the primary "meaning" is a humorous variation on sidekick Robin's constantly-repeated adulatory...

"Good thinking, Batman!" (as "parrotted" by myself and playmates 50 years ago)

Thus it's no more a "regionalism" than saying some equivalent like "[That's a] good idea, John!" - it's usually just a witty allusion to a 60s catchphrase. But the words themselves are just normal English, so obviously they were/are/will be used without that allusion sometimes.

But it's not common. There are just 12 instances in Google Books, of which I can only read the text in 8 cases (half of which are from Pratchett's own books). If you do hear it "out in the wild", you might get a clue from the enunciation as to whether the speaker himself is aware of the Pratchett allusion by noting whether thatman is "slurred together" into a single word.


As regards "common idiomatic usages", it's worth noting that forms such as "Well done, that man!" and "Well said, that man!" are quite natural (there are over a thousand written instances of each, in those links). But whereas it's perfectly normal to use the Batman version (or the jocular allusion thereto) when there's only the "addressee" present, it's unlikely you'd use that man in any other context, unless there were other people present at the time (the ones you're really addressing).


EDIT: Noting comments below (and the fact that a couple of people disagree with what I'm saying so strongly as to downvote it), I think it's worth considering the implications of this NGram...

chart

It's a reasonable assumption that some of the capitalised instances will arise in contexts such as "Good thinking is thinking that is properly guided by epistemological criteria", and some of the non-capitalised instances will be things like "That was good thinking, son", for example. But it's difficult to ignore two implications:-

a) This type of "gerund" usage was far less common in C19 than C20 (so it didn't "tail off" after WW1)
b) The capitalised (possibly satirical) "plaudit" version only really took off after the Batman TV shows.

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@Joe: Pratchett is English, and more or less of my generation (he's 6 years older). So I'm sure he, like me, has used "Good thinking, Batman!" as a facetious catchphrase countless times over the years, starting from the 60s when he was a teenager. Sometime in later life he came up with the updated version, and obviously decided it was a good fit to the "larky" style of his books. But regardless of his customary self-deprecation, Pratchett is a very smart guy whose texts are absolutely chock-full of cultural/linguistic/scientific allusions. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 at 15:47
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I feel that this is one of those cases where trying to decide on commonality by doing a book search is not representative. This has always been more likely to pop up in street speech. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 12 at 16:47
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@FumbleFingers: I don't see what "American teenagers" have to do with it; I am most certainly neither, and the same goes for this OP. All I'm saying is that I hear this phrase in Nottingham with regularity and your Book search indicates the contrary. Therefore, it is flawed. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 12 at 17:05
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@JoeBlow both x x, that man and good thinking, y sound natural to me (southern UK), though much more in (informal) speech than in writing, and not uncommonly with an ironic or patronising edge to them. –  Chris H Aug 12 at 18:27
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@Mynamite: I give up. The OP asked whether these specific four words represent a "saying" or "regionalism", which they obviously don't. Given he's only come across them in a Pratchett book, and I'm 100% certain I know why Pratchett used those words for humorous effect, it seemed only reasonable to point that out. David's obviously irrelevant NGram for the uncapitalised version has been addressed by my last edit. If people are still not convinced, I guess I'll have to leave them to their blissful ignorance. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 at 23:22

The expression is rooted in the English class system, where a member of the upper classes would not necessarily remember (or even know, or care about) the name of someone from a lower class.

In the exclamation, "Good thinking, that man!" the speaker is exclaiming to the world in general that a man had had a good idea. He can't bring himself to talk to the man himself, because that would mean having to address him by name — even if just the surname, "Good thinking, Jones!", a name which he doesn't know. So instead, he announces appreciation to his peers, calling the underling "that man", "that man over there", and so avoids having to address him at all.

So yes: it is a real English saying, if rather dated. It wouldn't have been used in this way since the class system largely collapsed in the First World War.

It's become a caricatured trait, and these days someone might say it in appreciation instead of saying "Good idea, Bob" to his friend standing next to him.

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+1 for the explanation that the usage is tied to the social hierarchy. I didn't know that (and in retrospect, yeah, it is always the higher-ups that say in books). –  Dan Bron Aug 12 at 13:12
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I've said something similar in he last couple of weeks, when applauding an exceptional catch taken by an opposing player (in a game of cricket), whose name I didn't know. I shouted "Well caught, that man!" in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, as it's really quite an outdated phrase. –  Phil M Jones Aug 12 at 13:24
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Do you have a source for this origin of the expression? –  jfhc Aug 12 at 13:38
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I think the idea that referring to someone as that man is somehow "rooted in the English class system" is completely ludicrous. And it's equally misleading to suggest that "Good thinking, that man!" is a "real English saying" that was common before WW1 - I venture to suggest that because such gerund use was extremely unusual in Victorian English, it would almost never have been said until after WW1 anyway. And without Batman, it would almost never be said even today. –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 at 15:55
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@FumbleFingers: I half agree with your second comment, but ultimately I cannot agree that Batman is the prime reason for this statement any more than the class system. It's simply an exclamation of respect for an idea someone had when said person is not around. Since you would not say, 'Good thinking, Jim!' when the Jim in question is not present, you might say the above expression. It does require that you speak a more Brittish variant of English, of course. –  Magus Aug 12 at 17:44

I found nothing to suggest that the phrase Good thinking, that man existed prior the 1980s and hence Andrew Leach's seductive opening statement that this form of utterance harks back to the British Empire era and its class system, although very appealing appears to be, at best, misguided.

The expression is rooted in the English class system, where a member of the upper classes would not necessarily remember (or even know, or care about) the name of someone from a lower class.

The following phrases while they do acknowledge that the construction Good thinking + old + noun predate and are not exclusive to Pratchett; they do not, surprisingly, predate the 1950s which frankly I had not expected.

Good thinking, old man. Trusts and Estates, Volume 96, New York City Fiduciary Publishers, 1957

Good thinking, old twin. A Trick of Light by Barbara Corcoran, 1972 (USA)

Good thinking, old buddy. Star Smashed of the Galaxy Rangers by Harry Harrison, 1974 (USA)

Good thinking, old girl Sights and Sounds, Scents and Savors of Maine by Harvey and Jean Howells, 1978 (UK)

Good thinking, old fellow. The Plains of the Sea by Niel Hancock, 1982 (USA)

Jolly good thinking, old chap. Kith and Kin by André Kaminski, 1988 (USA)

Good thinking, old thing The Doggone Years by Masood Hasan, 1996 (Pakistan)

Good thinking, old bean Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen 2010 (set in London, England, 1932; a story about a member of the Royal family who attends a wedding in Transylvania.)

The earliest instance of "Good thinking, that man" that I found on the Internet is dated February 1 2001, not conclusive proof I agree but it is an indication that this expression is not some relic of the British upper classes but, au contraire, a well-oiled American English construction which is alive and kicking today.

If there was one English author who I would have thought used this expression in his body of work, it would be P.G. Wodehouse as Wikipedia points out

Wodehouse's main canvas remained that of a pre- and post-World War I English upper class society, reflecting his birth, education and youthful writing career.

The phrases "Good thinking, Jeeves" or any of their derivatives (e.g. "Good thinking, old man") simply do not exist in any of Wodehouse's novels.

Finally, @Fumblefingers assertion that the phrase is a derivation of Good thinking, Batman is legitimate and confirmed in A Dictionary of Catch Phrases By Eric Partridge. The famed etymologist states that the catchphrase Good thinking! didn't become a common British English expression until circa 1969 and...

The phrase came from the US, where it had arisen, c. 1950, among the advertising and publicity agencies of New York's madison Avenue and had, by the middle or late 1950s, become a US c.p.—not unassisted by the "Good thinking, Batman" of the Batman 'comic' strips.

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"hence Andrew's seductive opening statement that this form of utterance harks back to the British Empire era and its class system, although very appealing appears to be, at best, misguided" .. I'm afraid I have to totally agree with ML. (Nicely put, too :) ) –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 6:29
    
Talk about weird! I have to upvote both yours and Joe's answers, because they're so obviously right. But although they're both really just extended comments endorsing my own answer, they've already both got more upvotes than my original "lone voice in the wilderness". Maybe it would have helped if I'd found the backup from Partridge, or remembered the Status Quo track, but I don't see how my failure to do that could possibly excuse the collective ELU decision that my obviously true answer nets 1 vote, while Andrew's obviously false answer currently has 10 votes. –  FumbleFingers Aug 13 at 12:27
    
@fumblefingers unfortunately questions, and consequently answers, have a short shelf-life on ELU. But there are three answers contradicting Andrew Leech's one and his silence could be interpreted in several ways. –  Mari-Lou A Aug 13 at 12:49
    
@Mari-Lou: I remain quietly confident my answer will eventually turn out to be a "slow burner". Isn't there a badge for successfully overturning a strongly-endorsed answer months or years later? IWOOT! –  FumbleFingers Aug 13 at 13:36

I'm gonna offer a stunning piece of evidence which I mentioned briefly before:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x40av5_good-thinking-batman-status-quo-ins_music

There's a music track by then extremely popular band "Status Quo", which is indeed titled "Good Thinking, Batman."

If anyone with a different temperament from me, in to exhibitionistic detail, cares to research, you'll see the dates align precisely: they're all exact socio-economic contemporaries.

For me this is huge evidence that "Good thinking, Batman" is indeed, let's say was, a catchphrase of sufficient weight, in exactly the right temporal milieu, that it tremendously bolsters wot Fumble claims.

I have only been able to find other minor evidence to support the contention "'Good thinking, Batman' was a catchphrase of sufficient weight to support the claim in question" - for example, people have named their "pinterest" site thus, and so on. The Status Quo connection is the only really knockout one I've found. Perhaps others can do better.

So for me, I'm going to go ahead and answer: Answer: it's Pratchett riffing on a catchphrase of the day.

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I have a comment under my answer saying "I hear this phrase in Nottingham with regularity" (the that man version, not Batman). Obviously it could be said "naturally", but it's hard to imagine that would happen often enough to merit the word "regularly", so I'm forced to suppose the Pratchett variant has acquired a degree of "catchphrase" status itself. –  FumbleFingers Aug 13 at 12:44
    
FWIW, here's a forum post discussing Batman Begins where someone posted "Good thinking, that man" back in 2008. But I guess the unbelievers will just say it was a natural usage, since no-one on the forum has actually posted "Good pun!" or "LOL". –  FumbleFingers Aug 13 at 12:47
    
And here's one from the Daily Mail in 2007, where a couple of sentences after Mr Johnson had gone for the grey look. Good thinking, that man! we have Mr Johnson, asked what he might do as Labour's second-in-command, indicated his desire to play 'Robin to Gordon Brown's Batman'. It's getting harder and harder to justify the idea that these are entirely "natural" usages, owing nothing to the erstwhile catchphrase. –  FumbleFingers Aug 13 at 12:53
    
that's a more or less definitive example (well, it absolutely proves that, at least, the particular journalists/editors in question see it in terms of the catchphrase solution). –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 12:56
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fascinating ephemera .. mgr-forums.com/viewtopic.php?t=4361&p=36314 comedy.co.uk/forums/thread/2106#P26203 (google for others!) –  Joe Blow Aug 13 at 12:58

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