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In episode 1 of the TV show Severance, A woman tells a man,

You are good people.

But she refers to only him. Why is the plural “people” used?

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  • Citation or it didn't happen. :(
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 22:29
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    I hear it used "[semi-]facetiously" sometimes, here in the UK. An American version of salt of the earth, but even more "folksy". Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 23:06

1 Answer 1

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It's American and old-fashioned, says the M-W (though I see it is used even nowadays):

good people
noun
US, informal + old-fashioned
an honest, helpful, or morally good person

  • I like him; he's good people.

Green's Dictionary of Slang says:

good people (n.)

  1. (also fine people, nice...) an admirable individual; a member of one’s peer group; less common is the antithetical bad people.

The earliest example it gives is from 1893:

‘Good people’ is a universal expression applied alike to an individual and a company. It means a good fellow or a crowd of good fellows. (St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) 3 Dec. 17/7)

Note that this idiom is not reserved to English, and it may have been influenced by other languages such as Spanish, Portuguese or German.

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  • The OED has a better perspective here. "4c. Used in addressing or referring to someone in a courteous or respectful manner. Now often humorous or somewhat depreciative. ... good people: a courteous form of addressing a body or assembly of people." It's been used since Early Old English, so hardly intrinsically "American". The only thing old fashioned about this courteous form of reference or address is that courtesy has fallen by the wayside over time.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 23:32
  • Here's one of the OED's UK citations: "2003 R. Liddle Too Beautiful for You (2004) 80 This is BBC Norfolk takin' you thru the wee small hours with heavy heavy multi techno garage, house and conservatory for the good people of East Anglia."
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 23:34
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    @tchrist With all due respect, labeling an individual as You are good people is actually distinct from addressing an assembly of the good people of this court. A set phrase. Not being argumentative, just saying. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 0:00
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    @YosefBaskin You're right. Those two are different, but hardly unrelated, don't you think? The set phrase "she's good people" is notably peculiar in its lack of numeric agreement, which might preclude its use in certain contexts.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 2:54
  • Much the same phrase in Spanish, I found. My family was called buena gente by our neighbors in Mexico. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 18:42

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