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Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

I'm not WELL. I'm good, thanks.

One of the funniest things on the web — it’s been on there for several years; this is not a late-breaking news blog — is the list of “leaked” tour demands that Steve Martin posted on his website when he was touring with his bluegrass group, the Steep Canyon Rangers. The whole thing is hilarious, but the part I remembered, when I went looking for the piece this week, is this:

One designated runner to liai

se with sound, lighting, production staff, artists and security. Must speak English, but not be the type when asked, “How are you?” that responds, “I’m WELL, thanks ...”
I live in a college town, where people seem to want to appear educated. I like it here but I’m not afflicted with this need, at least I hope I’m not. For 14 or so years, before remarrying and moving, I lived in a small, blue-collar city that had not much self-esteem and very little pretense. (Both communities, I’ve found, have similar drug problems, but that’s another, more serious story.) In that town, I didn’t notice this phenomenon much at all; but here, even the cashiers at the food co-op — okay, maybe you’d expect it there — when you ask how they are will almost always reply, “I’m WELL.” Just as Steve says, they emphasize the modifier, as if to stress that they had English teachers, they know what’s right.

I’ve never understood this affectation. To say “I’m WELL” is, in fact, a limiting description: it means you’re in good health, basically. If I understand this right, people were taught that “well” is more correct than “good” in this usage because, um ... because it’s better. More educated. But “good” means the same thing and is, in fact, a richer descriptor that more accurately describes what you mean when you mean to say, “I’m in good spirits, good things have happened, things are pretty good today.”

To believe “I’m good” is wrong is also to believe that any other adjective is wrong when linked to a verb form of “to be” — especially other modifiers that describe states of being. “I’m happy,” “I’m angry,” “I’m nervous,” “I’m dizzy,” “I’m jubilant.” If “I’m good” is less correct, then these are too. I mean right? You can say, Well, "I'm good" suggests that you're a good person, but I would say: Not in this context. If you asked me, "Are you evil?" and I answered, "No, overall I'm generally good," then yes. But I don't get asked that much. If you ask "How are you" and I answer, "I'm good," then the context is clear and the answer, I'm pretty sure, is grammatically just fine.

Well ... never mind. It doesn't matter much. I’m so often either puzzled or a little annoyed by “I’m WELL,” but not usually enough to make me want to rant about it. And I don’t like bloggers that rant. Far too much ranting online. But the truth is, I’ve had bronchitis for over two weeks. I haven’t been well.

I’m doing better, though.

I can almost say I’m good.

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