"use it in good health"

When I was growing up, my grandparents and other older relatives used an expression, "Use it in good health," or a variant, "Wear it in good health". 

This was said when you bought something that you were very excited about, or received a wonderful gift, or made a major purchase. If you brought home a new coat that you loved, and tried it on to show her, along with "It's beautiful," or "It looks great on you," my mother would say, "Wear it in good health." 

Another variant is, "You should wear it in good health." The you should part is a wish or a prayer, similar to the more formal (and religious-sounding) may you. It expresses a desire. In "wear it in good health," the you should or may you is understood. 

Tangent: there is also a sarcastic version of you should. "Maybe the Democrats will grow spines and vote against this war." "You should live so long." This is roughly equivalent to hell freezing over.

Another tangent: there is also the Jewish you shouldn't. "Bring a snack, you shouldn't faint from hunger," meaning, bring a snack so that you won't be hungry. This is often an exaggeration meant to be humorous.

So when I recently told my mother about our new car, she said, "Use it in good health."

I've always assumed this was a Jewish-culture thing, but I actually don't know. Perhaps it's even more specific, a Brooklyn-Jewish thing. Or perhaps it's not Jewish at all, perhaps it's generational. Do you know this expression? Did your family from [somewhere] use it?

I know most people will answer on Facebook and not here. But if you could leave a comment here so it's captured on this blog, I would appreciate it.

About the saying itself, it's one of those idioms I heard without ever thinking about. With my mother now the only person in my life who would use these old expressions, I sometimes hear them with fresh ears. I love this one. It acknowledges the importance to you of this material object, and at the same time, puts it in perspective. The coat is beautiful, but only if you have the good health to enjoy it.


Stephanie said...

While I know the expression I can't say I remember either of my parents using it. Also my mother being a francophone latched on to common sayings and used them more than my father did. Positive Anymore for example she used positive anymore all the time.

laura k said...

Stephanie, can you use that in a sentence for us -- positive anymore? No idea what that is!

James Redekop said...

"Use it in good health" feels pretty generic to me, but "you should live so long" definitely has a Jewish feel to me. When I read the phrase, it always sounds like Mel Brooks saying it in my head.

Fun anecdote apropos nothing much: When writer/comedian Matt Mira was 11, growing up in Lowell, MA, he wanted to be a comedian. So he asked his mother if he could convert to Judaism, because he thought that being Jewish was a prerequisite for comedy.

He didn't go through with the conversion, but he did become a comedian. He currently writes on The Goldbergs, and ended up marrying a Jewish journalist.

laura k said...

Mel Brooks, definitely! :)

The Matt Mira story, Seinfeld fans will be reminded of the dentist Tim Whatley (Brian Cranston, before fame) converting to Judaism for the jokes. "And that offends you as a Jewish person?" "No, it offends me as a comedian!"

And we have one vote for "use it in good health" not being a Jewism.

laura k said...

Another friend on FB said she heard this all the time growing up -- not Jewish, not New York. Interesting!

mkk said...

When I read your post about your new vehicle, my initial impulse was to write, "Drive it in good health!" Somehow that did not seem appropriate for you, so I simply wrote, "Great! Enjoy it!" I don't think I ever heard "Use it in good health" when I was growing up in a Jewish household in Philadelphia, though I cannot say for sure whether it is a New York-Jewish expression. It reminds me of what I have always considered a New York-Jewish saying (though I don't know its actual origin), "You should live and be well a hundred and twenty years." I never heard that in my Philadelphia childhood either. Note "should," as you wrote in your post. Also, I did not write that as "120," which you would generally say as "one hundred twenty," as it is articulated as "a hundred and twenty." I appreciate the emphasis on not only on living that long but on being well.

impudent strumpet said...

"Use it in good health" I didn't realize was an expression. Its meaning is clear as a sequence of words and it seems unremarkable to me (i.e. I wouldn't think twice or go "huh"? if someone said it), but I haven't heard it said frequently enough to notice it. (I can't actually remember ever hearing it said, but because I receive it as an unremarkable sequence of words I wouldn't have noticed if I had heard it.)

My translator instincts think the "should" is being used to render a verb or verb tense that doesn't exist in/translate smoothly into English. It kind of reminds me of a strategy for translating long, subjunctive-heavy French sentences into English, where using the English subjunctive would be ponderous and unclear, but I think the nuance here is a bit different.

Since it seems Jewish, someone with knowledge of such things could look at what they equivalent expression in either Yiddish or Hebrew would be (I'm not knowledgeable enough to tell which one we should be looking at), and whether it has any not-directly-translatable verbs or verb tenses in it.

The Mound of Sound said...

Laura, completely off topic. I know you guys are into photography. We're supposed to get a good dump of snow down here along the east coast of the island. I'm not sure if you're in for the same. However, if you do get snow, you can often get great pictures of the fishing fleet at the docks just before sunrise and just after. Another good time is in the evening when the dock lights can give great highlights to the boats tied up. Sometimes with this cold outflow of Arctic air you can also get "steam" rising off the water.

I think I should get my Nikon charged up.


allan said...

"Use it in good health" sounds too long (or wordy - can a five-word saying be too wordy?) for a Jewish expression. Does that make sense? I think the "use it" is clunky.

allan said...


The Seinfeld episode is "The Yadda Yadda". This was Season 8, Episode 19!! Once again, I'm shocked that a solid episode (or storyline, at least) came this late in the run.


Marcy: You know, a friend of mine thought she got Legionnaires' disease in the hot tub.
George: Really? What happened?
Marcy: Oh, yadda yadda yadda, just some bad egg salad. I'll be right back.
Jerry: I noticed she's big on the phrase "yadda yadda."
George: Is "yadda yadda" bad?
Jerry: No, "yadda yadda" is good. She's very succinct.
George: She is succinct.
Jerry: Yeah, it's like you're dating USA Today.


Jerry: Tim, do you think you should be making jokes like that?
Tim: Why not? I'm Jewish, remember?
Jerry: I know, but ...
Tim: Jerry, it's our sense of humor that sustained us as a people for 3,000 years.
Jerry: 5,000.
Tim: 5,000, even better. Okay, Chrissie. Give me a schtickle of flouride.
Jerry: And then he asked the assistant for a schtickle of flouride.
Elaine: Why are you so concerned about this?
Jerry: I'll tell you why. Because I believe Whatley converted to Judaism just for the jokes.


Jerry: What about all your Jewish jokes?
Tim: I'm Jewish, you're not a dentist. You have no idea what my people have been through.
Jerry: The Jews?
Tim: No, the dentists. You know, we have the highest suicide rate of any profession?
Jerry: Is that why it's so hard to get an appointment?


Jerry: Don't you see what Whatley is after? Total joke-telling immunity. He's already got the two big religions covered, if he ever gets Polish citizenship there'll be no stopping him.


George: Listen to this. Marcy comes up and she tells me her ex-boyfriend was over late last night, and "yadda yadda yadda, I'm really tired today." You don't think she yadda yadda'd sex.
Elaine: I've yadda yadda'd sex.
George: Really?
Elaine: Yeah. I met this lawyer, we went out to dinner, I had the lobster bisque, we went back to my place, yadda yadda yadda, I never heard from him again.
Jerry: But you yadda yadda'd over the best part.
Elaine: No, I mentioned the bisque.


Jerry: So you won't believe what happened with Whatley today. It got back to him that I made this little dentist joke and he got all offended. Those people can be so touchy.
Kramer: "Those people", listen to yourself.
Jerry: What?
Kramer: You think that dentists are so different from me and you? They came to this country just like everybody else, in search of a dream.
Jerry: Kramer, he's just a dentist.
Kramer: Yeah, and you're an anti-dentite.
Jerry: I am not an anti-dentite!
Kramer: You're a rabid anti-dentite! Oh, it starts with a few jokes and some slurs. "Hey, denty!" Next thing you know you're saying they should have their own schools.
Jerry: They do have their own schools!


Wikipedia includes six earlier uses of the phrase in TV shows. Script writer Peter Mehlman suspected that this episode would spawn a new catchphrase, but he thought it would be "anti-dentite".

James Redekop said...

I just found a 2013 discussion thread on "The Straight Dope" about this exact topic.

According to this article, the original was "wear it in good health", from Yiddish, "trog gezunterhait".

Another webpage says that "Perspectives on American English" (1980, edited by J.L. Dillard) also attributes it to Yiddish, but I don't have a quote from the book.

laura k said...

"You should live and be well a hundred and twenty years."

I have never heard anyone say this (or that I can remember, anyway). I'm voting for *not* a New York-Jewish thing.

Imp Strump, it would be Yiddish. Hebrew would have been the language of the shul (synagogue).

Too long an expression to be Jewish? I thought we never shut up. :)

laura k said...

Thanks, MoS. Everyone is talking about impending snow, but as of yet, we haven't seen a flake. Good luck with your shoot!

laura k said...

James, that's so cool! The topic, as you said, is exactly the same! With very much the same results.

I have not heard trog gezunterheit but I used to hear gay gezunterheit -- although unfortunately I don't remember in what context it was used.

I do suspect a Yiddish origin -- the phrase sounds so Yiddish to me. But that wouldn't account for several non-Jewish older people who grew up in completely non-Jewish towns hearing this expression all their lives.

James Redekop said...

But that wouldn't account for several non-Jewish older people who grew up in completely non-Jewish towns hearing this expression all their lives.

That's where Jewish comedy/media comes in. The Jewish presence in American media has been so pervasive for so long that I figure that some of these expressions have just bled into the general culture.

One of the biggest ironies of this is that the large Jewish presence in the media gets cited by antisemites as proof of the "global conspiracy", when the large Jewish presence in the media (and banking) is a direct result of antisemitism keeping Jewish people out of other careers for centuries...

laura k said...

The Jewish presence in American media has been so pervasive for so long that I figure that some of these expressions have just bled into the general culture.

It makes sense. In the big mix of origins of US-English words, there is certainly a smattering of Yiddish.

To your second point, YES, EXACTLY. The corollary of "blame the Jews" is blame anti-Semitism. (Not sure I used corollary correctly there?)

Amy said...

I found the same source that James found, and I've always assumed this was a Jewish thing, but perhaps adopted by the wider culture like bagels and schmuck and schmooze, etc. Maybe it's because my in-laws used it all the time. Of course, my background leads me to think lots of words and expressions have a Yiddish background when they don't. My mother, e.g., always thought the word "tumult" was Yiddish because it sounded like "tummler," which is.

laura k said...

In my earlier comment, I had bagels, shmuck, and shmooze. :) Also schlep.

AND I also thought tumult had a Yiddish origin! I don't know the word tummler, but the way my mom pronounces tumult, it sounds Yiddish.

Amy said...

Sorry---I missed your earlier comment. But I guess we think alike!

A tummler, according to Google, is "a person who makes things happen, in particular a professional entertainer or comedian whose function is to encourage an audience, guests at a resort, etc., to participate in the entertainments or activities." My mother used it more to mean more generally someone who stirred things up.

Amy said...

Still can't find your earlier comment?!

mkk said...

From Wikipedia on the Jewish origin of living to 120:

This is from Verse by Verse Ministry
Gen. 6:3 Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

Stephanie said...

EXAMPLE of Positive Anymore:

Anymore I go to the farmers market (POSITIVE). This as apposed to : I don't (NEGATIVE) got to the grocery store anymore.

It should be noted the the word ANYMORE means nowadays and that the word ANYMORE can occur at the beginning or the end of the sentence and rgar this particular usage is common to SWO (South Western Ontario) and parts of the US.

My mother recognised it and began using it more than most.

laura k said...

Amy, sorry for the confusion. I meant I had written those words and then deleted them. That's why you missed them -- they weren't there!

Tummler is new to me. I know ganiff, who might he zoftig, and perhaps a yenta. With a shmata on her head. :)

laura k said...

Thanks Stephanie. I thought the expression was "positive anymore". Not the use of the word anymore to mean something positive, not negative. :)

laura k said...

Mkk with the bible quotes!

Amy said...

LOL! My aunt would alternate between calling me a shayna punim and a mieskeit. And then there's the whole schlemiel, schlamazel thing. And we were never allowed to call someone a putz for reasons I didn't understand since to me, it was just another insult. And we won't go near the shiksa, shagetz thing. :)

laura k said...

We were called shayna maidelah. I have never heard anyone use the word shagetz. I heard shiksa often enough, and of course, goy. Oy gevalt.

Amy said...

My parents rarely used Yiddish (and never words like shiksa or shaygetz). But my aunt and grandmother would. And my in-laws.

With God's Help said...

I really like the "You should live so long."

Hubby (hailing from NJ but with Polish ancestry) told me yesterday to wear something "in good health."