Grammar Moses: Is President Biden, who has a 'good-paying' job, too familiar?

  • President Joe Biden speaks about the economy and his infrastructure agenda Monday in the White House, and he was probably touting the need for "good-paying jobs."

    President Joe Biden speaks about the economy and his infrastructure agenda Monday in the White House, and he was probably touting the need for "good-paying jobs." Associated press

 
 
Updated 7/24/2021 7:30 PM

I haven't spoken to President Joe Biden about this, so kindly grant me a little poetic license for a spell.

Joe, like almost all of the presidents we've shared during my lifetime, prides himself on his approachability, his folksiness.

 

We need our leaders to be leaders, but we also need them to feel approachable, familiar.

We had a governor who was nearly a billionaire but loved to travel around the state on a Harley-Davidson, who loved his Carhart jackets and who thumbed his nose at neckties.

He also dropped his G's from just about every verb. He was the runnin' and gunnin' governor.

Was that an affectation? I don't know, and I've spoken with him a few times. He was Deerfield-bred and went to Dartmouth and Harvard. But people seemed to slurp up his everyman quality.

During his first run for governor, anyway.

And that brings me back to Scranton Joe, a man of the common people who is proud to remind folks he was the poorest member of the U.S. Senate.

Joe is the king of straight talk. He often starts out his sentences with "Look" or "Folks." You can almost feel his arm around your shoulder as he gives it to you straight.

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Despite having existed in the shadow of silver-tongued Barack Obama for eight years, Joe clearly feels the workingman's approach is his connection.

And that brings me to reader Herm Faubl's email.

"I'd like to hear your take on the president's habit of saying he wants to create 'good-paying jobs.' Some of his supporters say the same. Am I justified in allowing my head to spin each time and mentally substituting 'well-paying jobs'?

I always wanted well-paying jobs (lots of money) vs. good-paying (the checks were always available on schedule).

I waded through a number of transcriptions of Biden's speeches, and they're peppered with "good-paying jobs" and "good-paying union jobs."

"Good" is an adjective. An unimaginative one, but an adjective all the same.

"That's a good idea!" "Well," for the purposes of this discussion, is an adverb. It describes how something is done.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Adjectives modify nouns. Adverbs modify verbs and adjectives and other adverbs.

"You've done well with your life, Mr. Biden."

Turn the "good-paying" sentence around. Do you want a job that pays good or a job that pays well?

I thought so.

You could say you want a good job (adjective/noun) that pays well (verb/adverb).

Still, the phrase "good-paying job" is perfectly idiomatic, which is to say it's in common usage.

If you plug the two phrases into Google's handy dandy Ngram Viewer, you'll see that in books published between 1800 and 1920, the two phrases were used with roughly the same frequency, which is to say almost never. The Industrial Revolution didn't exactly produce a lot of jobs that paid much of anything.

But right around 1920, the usage of both phrases became a much bigger part of our dialogue. And in books, the most formal manifestation of our speech, "well-paying jobs" these days outpaces "good-paying jobs" by a 7-2 ratio.

So, if you cling dearly to your high school teachings (or you're a newspaper editor who leans toward descriptivism), then call it a "well-paying job," even if it hurts your ear a little.

But if you're an everyman like President Biden or former Gov. Bruce Rauner (who liked to say "good-payin' jobs"), then you're not alone.

People will understand what you're talking about, and that's the most important thing.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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