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A very recent and similar question was closed asks what "for good" means. While general reference can answer the question, I became curious as to the etymology of the idiom. Googling around got me nowhere, which is unusual. The closest I found was a thread in wordorigins.org:

OED
for good (and all): as a valid conclusion; hence, as a final act, finally. 15.. Parl. Byrdes Aij, Than desyred al the Byrdes great and smal to mewe the hauke for good and all. 1603 in Crt. & Times Jas. I (1849) I. 25 D’Auval.. is gone for good and all. 1687 CONGREVE Old Bach. I. i, Ay, you may take him for good-and-all if you will. 1711 SWIFT Jrnl. to Stella 4 July, This day I left Chelsea for good, (that’s a genteel phrase). a 1732 T. BOSTON Crook in Lot (1805) 37 He was obliged for good and all to leave his country. 1850 J. H. NEWMAN Diffic. Anglic. 324 Throw off, for good and all, the illusions of your intellect. 1882 W. E. FORSTER Let. To Gladstone 10 Apr. in T. W. Reid Life (1888) II. viii. 421 This morning we released Parnell—not for good, but on parole.

However, this only traces some historical usages, and suggests that for good and all used to be a more popular version of the current idiom. Is there anything more substantial? Why did "for good" come to mean "forever"?

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I doubt you'll get anything more authoritative than OED on this one. It seems pretty clear good and all was the "original" - early transcriptions as good-and-all suggest it was already considered something of an opaque idiomatic usage around 1800. I'd guess the implied meaning is for "good people [of fine sensibilities like ourselves], and also for all others [in the unlikely event that their opinions should matter in respect of this issue]". –  FumbleFingers Sep 5 '11 at 21:43
    
An alternate parsing would be for [the] good [of society] and all [its people]. –  onomatomaniak Oct 19 '11 at 7:16
    
That doesn't mean forever though. –  Daniel Oct 19 '11 at 18:14
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It may be the for all that originally carried most of the 'forever' meaning, as in the expression once and for all, which covers pretty nearly the same ground. If so, the good part may have been largely an intensifier, with a sense somewhat akin to that of good in a good handful, a good while, etc. However, the relevant entry in the Middle English Dictionary notes by gode inspeccioun 'by thorough inspection', in hys good lyve 'during his whole life', and gode journeie 'a full day’s journey', in which good has the sense 'full, entire, complete'. This is an even better fit with the conjecture, but it could also suggest that for good by itself might have carried some of the same sense as for all -- the 'completely' part, if not the 'forever' part. In this connection it may be significant that Dutch voorgoed, literally 'for-good', has about the same range of senses as for good (and all); unfortunately, I’ve not discovered anything about its history.

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Indeed 'voorgoed' in Dutch stands for: definitely, final, forever, permanently, once and for all. Example: Daar zijn we voorgoed vanaf. - We are done with it for good. mijnwoordenboek.nl/… –  user23955 Jul 23 '12 at 12:06
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Merriam-Webster defines "good and _" as meaning "entirely". Thus, while I have been unable to sift through to a reference stating the exact origin of the phrase, one might guess that "good and all" could mean "entirely all". Thus "for good and all" (shortened to "for good") means "for entirely all."

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But we only use good and _ with an adjective, like Make that knot good and tight! –  Daniel Oct 19 '11 at 18:36
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 23 '12 at 15:16

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