Wishing You Well

By Maeve Maddox

A reader has written to express her astonishment at the following usage in an office memo:

Please come to the Open House to give [so-and-so] your well-wishes in person.

Where, wonders the reader, did the person who wrote the memo get the expression “well-wishes”?

Thought I, “Where indeed?”

My first move was to do a Web search to see how common this use of well-wishes might be.

First I searched “well wishes” in quotations. Results: about 1,290,000.

I found numerous examples on entertainment and sports sites:

Seinfeld cast sends well-wishes to terminally ill fan

Reese Witherspoon Sends Well Wishes to Newlywed Sofia Veragara

NFL Players send prayers, well-wishes to Rams receiver Stedman Bailey after shooting

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood sends well-wishes to Minnesota’s Jerry Kill

No surprise there, I thought. People who write about sports and entertainment are not always models of standard usage. Let’s see if I can find examples in sources noted for more formal usage:

The London Telegraph: Jubilee concert goers send well wishes to Prince Philip

A Vancouver hospital: Send well wishes by email to your friend or family member staying in one of our hospitals below.

The Wall Street Journal: Firms across the world have begun the time-honored tradition of sending well wishes and gifts to their investors.

The New York Times:  Entering an election year with the well wishes of both parties, Mr. Ryan will not be pushing legislation simply to send a message of ardent conservatism.

Hmm. This, I saw, was a case for my two dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster Unabridged
well-wish noun: a good or kindly wish

Oxford English Dictionary
well wish noun: An instance of wishing well to someone or something; an expression of this, a good wish.

The earliest OED citation is dated 1595. The most recent is from a biography of Lincoln published in 2009: “His return was not greeted with the well wishes of the press and public with which he had left for Washington.”

No doubt about it, the forms well wishes and well-wishes are regarded as standard British and American usage. Although—in defense of the reader’s feelings and my own—the OED notes that well wishes is “now less common than best or good wishes.” Further, a comparison search of “well wishes” and “good wishes” on the Ngram Viewer shows well wishes hugging the bottom of the graph.

Bottom line: Although well-wishes sounds nonstandard to me and I won’t use it, I cannot criticize its use in the memos or headlines of others.

Oddly enough, “well wishes” strikes me as unidiomatic, but “get well wishes” does not.

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3 Responses to “Wishing You Well”

  • Melissa

    On a somewhat related matter, I have always been puzzled by people’s saying “It would be well [for you to do something or other].” “Well” as an adjective–and it must be an adjective if following a linking verb in this construction–generally means “in good health.” Shouldn’t the speaker say “It would be good . . . “?

  • thebluebird11

    Maybe I’m old, but the expression “well wishes” used to be very common when and where I grew up. People retired or had big-number anniversaries or were promoted, you came to wish them well, expressed well wishes. Cards often closed with “Wishing you well,” and I never gave it a second thought. I’m not keen on the hyphenated form but anyway it seems to me to be a totally valid, if perhaps outdated, expression.
    @Melissa: IMO there is a difference between those two expressions. When you say it would be good for somebody to do something, that implies that something good will come of it, possibly for other people or other reasons. If you say it would be well for somebody to do something, it is kind of a warning to them that if they don’t do it, things will not go well for them.

  • Ellie P.

    I’ve actually seen “well-wishers” [ack!] but not “well-wishes” before.

    Ellie in Canada

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