A reader questions the expression “good-paying jobs”:
I’ve just come across ‘good-paying jobs’ in a report I’m editing by a highly regarded organization. (It has also been used by some politicians lately.) I was wondering if you could address the use of this phrase instead of what I would expect – “well-paying jobs.” I believe it’s not correct.
The OED tells us that good is “the most general and most frequently used adjective of commendation in English, and one of the most common non-possessive adjectives in all periods from Old English to the present day.”
Consider only a few of the uses of good:
good food (wholesome)
good books (well-written with worthwhile content0
good money (not counterfeit)
good soil (fertile)
good English (grammatically correct, well enunciated, and pronounced according to current national conventions)
A good question is thought-provoking, a good friend is loyal and dependable. Captain Ahab hopes for a good wind and Yenta looks for a good match for a client.
Someone, if not Chief Crazy Horse, may have said “It’s a good day to die,” and some scriptwriter came up with an episode of Desperate Housewives called “What’s the Good of Being Good?”
The OED entry for good identifies the word as adjective, noun, adverb, and interjection. The good page of the online edition I use scrolls seemingly into infinity.
My Compact Edition of the OED shows fifteen columns for plain good and another fifteen columns for words that have good as the root.
We speak of good-tasting food (food that tastes good), good-looking people (people who look good), and good-meaning do-gooders (people who mean well).
Note: American speakers are more likely to say “a well-meaning person,” but the OED includes “good-meaning.”
Why shouldn’t we speak of “good-paying jobs” to mean “jobs that pay well”?
The OED includes good-paying in its list of hyphenated “good words” for special uses, although the earliest citation (1834) doesn’t use the hyphen:
Sandy, this has surely been a good paying job; for, when you were in the Calton, your little ones could not come out for dirt and rags.
A Google search indicates that the two phrases are in about equal use. The Ngram Viewer shows both forms, with “good paying” higher on the graph than “well paying.”
“This job pays good” is undeniably nonstandard usage.
On the other hand, the following usage in an obituary written by Steven Greenhouse and published in The New York Times does not ignite my grammar nerve:
From 2000 to 2002, Mr. Herman headed the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Working for America Institute, which promoted labor-management partnerships to create profitable businesses and good-paying jobs.
I think that speakers who prefer “well-paying jobs” to “good-paying jobs” should use it, but unless house style demands one or the other, a writer’s choice should probably stand.