For the Marge Orrity of people who speak English, the above expression would not be understood except by those of us who speak “Strine”, which is the way some Australians pronounce the word “Australian“. (We also say “Marge Orrity” instead of “majority“, “unnerstood” instead of “understood“.) When you discover that the phrase in question is a deformation of “Good on you, my friend“, meant as an expression of admiration or congratulation, you will be a little more enlightened. But, in fact, “good” is an old form of the word “God“, as in “Goodbye“, a telescoping of the blessing (!), “God be with ye“. It works both ways : “Godspel” is “Good News“.
Now that your life has been enriched by this illuminating revelation, a little further reflection reveals how much our everyday speech is impregnated by God-talk. As kids we used to say, “Gee Whiz !“. (Americans still say “Geez“; today it is “like, Wow !“, or even less acceptable epithets). Who knows (or who cares ?) that the expression was another deformation, a puritanical way of avoiding taking the name of the Lord in vain ? Yes, “Gee Whiz !” is “Jesus Christ !“, as “Gosh !” is a cover-up for “God !“. The British aristocratic “Zounds !” is an oath, “By His wounds !“. The Cockney “Blimey !” was once a request that God should “blind me” if I were lying, become today simply an expression of surprise. God only knows (!) why we started saying “Holy Mackerel !” (perhaps as a softening of “(by) Holy Moses !”. In Shakespearian times, “byr lakin“, abbreviated to “bloody“, meant “by Our Lady“. American “Saints alive” is a pretty innocuous evocation of the Blessed in heaven. “Bless my soul !“, “Heavens above !“, “Well, upon my soul !” (if not “Well, I’ll be damned !“) and the like were all once part of our parlance.
All of this is a quaint enough relic of a recent past, the warp and woof of which was religion. “Adios“, “Adieu“, “Adio” ” – Spanish, French and Basque equivalents of “Goodbye” – have, like the rest, lost their original connotation. But all these expressions serve to remind us how our culture was saturated by religion, its symbols, its myths, its ethos, its vocabulary.
I doubt that we will ever return to a life punctuated by church-bells calling us to recite the Angelus, or that the “Sunday obligation” (to say nothing of my own voluntary practice as a child of daily (!) Mass), is likely to bring people back to church services. But, as the man said, it ain’t over till it’s finished.
We still have to live with the sempiternal, vacuous “God bless !” of American politicians and Presidents. Our language is a testament to religion’s omnipresence in the past and its survival, even in the present.