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7 Comments

  • Really interesting post, Stan. There is quite a bit of corpus evidence for the adjectival use you mention (hail-fellow-well-met), and it confirms the idea that this often carries negative connotations (of insincerity etc). Here are a couple of lines from the corpus: “The charm, the wit, the sophisticated hail-fellow-well-met , trust-me-I’m-a-great-guy front that he presented was just a facade.” “Richardson courted the despots with the same rumpled, hail-fellow-well-met manner that won him friends at home. He played up his friendship with the president, flattered the hostage-holders..” I assume “well-met” was well-established as a greeting long ago, because Shakespeare subverts it in Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Oberon says to Titania “Ill met by moonlight” – which later became the title of a movie.

  • Thanks, Michael. It’s probably safe in most instances to assume the phrase has negative connotations, but worth remembering that it doesn’t always. I like those example from the corpus. I haven’t seen Ill Met By Moonlight but I love Powell and Pressburger’s work so I’ll be sure to look out for it.

  • I first came across the phrase in the instructions to conducting staff reports at work in 1970’s. As I recall we were asked to describe the person as more than a “hail fellow well met”. I think that implies that there is a certain superficiality about the “hail fellow…” assessment and the report wanted something deeper or more meaningful? Anyway a rather quaint turn of phrase but I was working in a museum so that explains a lot!

  • Colin: Avoiding a superficial assessment does seem to be the intention there. It’s interesting that the phrase was used in such a context – and that its meaning wasn’t completely clear to those it was meant for.

  • Many thanks Stan. Yes – they were forever tinkering with the report form. “Provide a vivid pen-portrait” was another instruction which was presumably intended to boost creative writing. The system seems to have been rather Dickensian in retrospect!

  • One of the first jokes I ever learned as a child (my skills have improved since, really!) is “What’s worse than raining cats and dogs? Hailing taxis.”