I knew it could be a problem. I put it in, I took it out. It was like doing the print version of the hokey pokey.
I am talking about the beginning of last Sunday’s piece on Stephanie Wilcox, the gifted band leader at McKee Middle School:
“Stephanie Wilcox doesn’t have to talk loud for her students to play good. The 25-year-old director of instrumental and choral music for McKee Middle School looks at them from behind her steel-rimmed glasses and they play. Play harder and better than they have in their entire 10- to 14-year-old lives.”
See the problem? Laurie Green did and emailed the day after the column appeared:
“Stephanie Wilcox doesn’t have to talk loud for her students to play ‘good’? You meant 'well,' right??
“Funny error since you were talking about a teacher. Just had to give you (and your editor) a bad time!”
Laurie’s email didn’t surprise me. I was surprised there weren't more. Using “good” had been a calculated risk, a risk I was well acquainted with.
I’m not the first to use “good” when the correct word is “well.” Remember Joni Mitchell and her song “Real Good for Free”?
“I was standing on a noisy corner
“Waiting for the walking green
“Across the street he stood
“And he played real good
“On his clarinet, for free.”
That’s a different song if it’s called “Real Well for Free.”
This is called artistic license. I tried to explain that to Sue who had been dismayed by my usage and she suggested that perhaps Joni and I were in different artistic leagues. I disagreed with her but she declined to take the matter further and began playing "Words with Friends” again.
If I were to ask Joni what she was thinking, and I could if I wanted to pick up the phone and call her but I don’t because I know she’s not feeling real good these days, she might say, “Herb, I know why you did what you did. “Loud” and “good” sound better together than do “Loud” and “well,” which do not work as good.
My mom would be disappointed, Joni’s support notwithstanding. How many times did Mom correct me on “lay” and “lie” as well as “well” and “good.” Sorry Mom, I’m doing as good as I can.
I emailed Laurie to reassure her that I wasn’t as big an idiot as I seemed:
“I did it on purpose but probably should have placed 'good' in quotes.”
Laurie bought my explanation. I think she bought it. Her next email was adorned with some sort of smiley emoji or maybe a winking emoji.
If I had placed quotes around “good” to show that I knew I good-and-well what I was doing, I would have been inviting readers in on the joke, assuming it was funny enough to be a joke and risen to the joke threshold which I was not convinced it had.
I think I’ve learned a lesson. Sometimes, you’re better off leaving good enough alone. I know that well.