Posted by: Jack Henry | July 8, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Good Riddance

The other day a friend and I were discussing someone (okay, we were talking trash) and she said, “Well, good riddance to him!” She followed that with, “I don’t even know what that means.” Judging by our previous conversation, she knew exactly how to use the phrase, meaning “It’s good to be rid of him.” Let’s look a little closer at the meaning and history of this phrase.

From Merriam-Webster:

riddance (noun)

inflected form(s): plural -s

1: an act of ridding, freeing, or cleaning : clearance <the experiments showed high rates of kill with some of them showing 100 percent riddance — J. B. Robson>

2obsolete : progress with a task : dispatch of work

3: deliverance, relief —often used in the phrase good riddance <it’s gone—and good riddance too — Weston LaBarre>

The Phrase Finder provides even more detail on the history of “good riddance.” I’ve cut this down a bit to make it more bite-sized.

‘Riddance’ is now so completely associated with this little phrase that it is rarely, if ever, seen out alone. The only sort of riddance on offer these days is a good one. It wasn’t always thus. In the 16th century a riddance was a general-purpose noun and meant ‘deliverance from’ or ‘getting rid of’. The first adjectives to be linked with the word were fayre/happy/gladsome and, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, 1600, Portia wishes the Prince of Morocco ‘a gentle riddance’….

Shakespeare appears to be the coiner of ‘good riddance’, in Troilus and Cressida, 1606:

Thersites: I will see you hanged, like clotpoles [KC – Stupid people], ere I come any more to your tents: I will keep where there is wit stirring and leave the faction of fools.
Patroclus: A good riddance.

The phrase is often extended and emphasized as ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ or, as that extended form was first coined, ‘good riddance of bad rubbish’. Tobias Smollett used the phrase in a none too friendly comment, in The Critical Review, 1805:

But we are sorry … to consider Mr. Pratt’s writings as ‘purely evil’ … we should really look upon this author’s departure from the world of literature as a good riddance of bad rubbish.

The American journalist and member of President Andrew Jackson’s ‘Kitchen Cabinet’, Francis Preston Blair, wrote an editorial in The Extra Globe, 1841. In this he appears to have been the first to use the precise version of the phrase that is most commonly used now:

[Following the withdrawal of members of a rival advisory group] From the bottom of our hearts we are disposed to exclaim "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

So, there you have it. It’s definitely not a nice phrase to use, but it sure is accurate. Sometimes people go away and the world gets a little brighter. Here’s hoping you don’t have people in your life you’d like to say “good riddance” to.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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