Thursday, 13 October 2011

well done everyone!

If I congratulate my friend Thomas by saying
Well done Thomas!
— how would you analyse that grammatically?

In this structure there don’t seem to be any other possibilities for the first slot, well. The only other possibility in second place seems to be played. The third slot can be a proper name or some other NP. It can also be a prepositional phrase with to.
  Well played Tendulkar!
  Well done London!
  Well done me!
  Well done the cast!
  Well done to everyone involved.

Although the syntactic structure appears to be elliptical, it is not clear what has been ellipted. It would be ungrammatical, in modern English at least, to say *You have well done. The only permitted word order is You have done well. Even That was a job well done has an unusual word order.

That problem aside, what is the syntactic role of the final NP here? If it is a personal name, then you might think that it was a vocative.
  Well played!
  Well played, Thomas!

There are two difficulties with calling it a vocative (except in the last example).
1. You can use this structure even if the person designated by the NP is not present. You can comment Well done Thomas even if Thomas is not in earshot. And the me of Well done me! can hardly be a vocative: you can say this while talking (boasting) to someone else.
  He faced them down, so well done Obama, I say.
  He won the vote, so well done the Prime Minister.
  Well done me, don’t you think? (= Don’t you think I’ve done well?!)

2. In intonation, final vocatives are usually not accented.
  ˈWell \played, Thomas!
But more usually in this structure the final NP is accented. (This is also shown by the absence of a comma before the NP in the written versions.)
  ˈWell ˈplayed \Thomas!
  ˈWell ˈdone \London.
  ˈWell ˈdone \me, | ˌdon’t you /think?

In the current issue of the satirical fortnightly Private Eye there’s a spoof of Cameron’s conference speech (blog, 6 October). Each paragraph ends well done me. If you read it aloud, the only plausible intonation is with the nuclear accent on me each time.


  1. Interesting puzzle. It seems to me that well done here is a "greeting/politeness word" like hello, thank you or contratulations. Some of these fixed phrases can take a direct object, as in phrases like goodbye Egypt, hello Japan.

    (Unfortunately I can't remember the formal term for "greeting/politeness word". It's the type of word that Pirahã famously lacks.)

  2. "Well said" works as well, no?

  3. «The only other possibility in second place seems to be played

    Well, there's 'well spotted', for a start, which behaves similarly to some of your examples. And although

    «That was a job well done has an unusual word order.»

    That was well done doesn't, and neither does That was well spotted

    So these seem like fairly unremarkable predicatives, and it seems they are ellipted into lexicalized sentence substitutes "Well done!" etc ('welcome' having a respelling to recognize its lexicalization), which can then function as predicatives with respect to the agent, with inversion for functional sentence perspective, as in "Well done" me. For fsp is no respecter of case.

    So when it's not a vocative it's not necessarily a direct (or indirect) object, as in phrases like goodbye Egypt, hello Japan, or with the more obviously lexicalized 'well' phrase. Welcome aboard, or even Welcome all \readers! as opposed to Welcome, all readers!

  4. For the examples in John's final paragraph, I think the causal relationship starts with the intonation.

    1. The syntax of 'Well played \Thomas!' is selected to allow focus on Thomas.

    2. The syntax of 'Well \played Thomas!' is selected to the unimportant given information, which by nature of the intonation already avoids being a focus, to also avoid being a topic.

    The syntax selected in [1] is an instance of what the comparative syntax folk call Verb Second. Common in Old English, the phenomenon has dwindled over the centuries, but still occurs in poetic archaism, set phrases such as Far be it from me, clauses with There as subject, and so on.

    The syntax selected in [2] is, as John says, a straightforward vocative.

  5. Exactly, David. Functional Sentence Perspective can still be syntactic even in Modern English, but as I commented on 'me', not usually morphological. Thus:

    That I think we can agree on.

    I wonder how many NSs are aware of how 'Woe is me' etc came about. If they think about it at all, they may think it represents "I am all woe"!

  6. With reference to the observation in my first post about 'welcome' having a respelling to recognize its lexicalization I should point out that I must have made it obvious on this blog that I'm not in the habit of appealing to etymology. Anyway with 'welcome' it wouldn’t do anything for my case! But it's integral to my approach that the question of sign identity has an irreducibly psychologistic aspect. This has long been in evidence from the forms in which 'welcome' has appeared:

    «16 well come.. 16–17 well-come

    … under the influence of Old French bien venu , bien veigniez , Latin bene venisti , bene venias , etc. » (OED3)

    Of course it's no longer productive for expressions like "Well are you come" etc. It's only the lexicalized form that has survived. But this form can still function just like That was well done and That was well spotted: 'That was welcome'. And Shakespeare's "and welcome happy day, my Lords" looks like a functional sentence perspective on that.

  7. To add to mallamb's Well spotted!, there's Well said!, Well read! (to a child who's just performed in a school assembly), Well saved! (to a football goalkeeper), Well recovered! (to a choir that's narrowly averted going off the rails...), and more. So it looks pretty productive.

    Accenting the final NP makes it implicitly 3rd person, otherwise it indicates the addressee. In Well \done, Thomas, he is being addressed. But Well done \Thomas could equally be Well done Thomas, everyone, i.e. Thomas is being referred to rather than addressed.

  8. In AmE (presumably representing the older state of affairs, as usual), Thomas is unquestionably a vocative — it is set off by a pause — and the whole thing is elliptical for That was well done, Thomas.

    While any verb can be used in principle, done is far and away the most probable.

  9. For me there's a similar pair, also congratulatory and also distinguished by intonation:

    1. 'Good for ↘you! ' — contrastive singled-out you

    2. 'Good on you! ' — non-contrastive mere mention of addressee(s) you

  10. @John Cowan:

    Do any Americans say "well done", other than for their steak?

    I would expect to hear "Good job, Thomas!"

  11. That's a point, vp. And whereas I guess they don't say "Well bowled that man!" or even "Well pitched that man", I'm not sure "Well caught that man" sounds more implausible for AmE than BrE.

  12. I must be mad. Of course it sounds more implausible for AmE now that I've posted it.

  13. vp

    I've heard 'Good ↘job! ' with an unstressed vocative. Is it ever used with stressed 'Thomas! '?

  14. Well observed, everyone! Now why can't that be anything but vocative? It does seem that the more productive the less idiomatic.

    Or it may be that the number of syllables has something to do with it: ?Well defended that man!

  15. In one of Shakespeare's plays (I can't remember in which one) we find some more:
    - well roared, lion
    - well shone, moon/sun?
    - well ...?

  16. Well remembered, dear boy!

    Again only vocative, I think. More evidence for my suggestion that the number of syllables has something to do with it.

  17. Most of those examples sound very British to me. I don't think we say those too much in America as someone else mentioned.

    It's funny that someone mentioned "Good on you!" I used to think that was exclusively British and/or Australian, but I think it may be creeping into American English now. I'll have to look into this a bit more to be sure though.

  18. Ad Kraut

    Midsummer's Night's Dream. But these sayings have there a sense different from the one here at hand, because they (in that play by WS) refer to actions feigned (roles played in a theatre play), not real. The lion who has roared well is not a lion and did not roar, only played roaring. Still less did the moon shine. Maybe our politicians 'do' their things in a similar fashion, after all...

  19. They once joked about Mr. Blair's 'steak [sic] in the society' and objected that that 'steak' was not 'well done'. Any British person there still remember?

  20. "Well done!" may be a little old-fashioned, but I think it's still well-understood.

    "Good job!" in AmE is now associated with speaking to children. It's a recent substitute for "Good boy/girl!", according to the silly theory that if you tell children they are good in certain situations, they will conclude that they are bad the rest of the time. Historically it could be used from superiors to subordinates, but I think the subordinates would rebel nowadays.

    In any case it's not just the intonation that makes AmE Thomas (or whatever) a vocative, it's the fact that it's ill-formed to say Well done, Thomas if you are not speaking to Thomas.

    ("It is ill-done to chain a dragon for roasting your meat." —Darkovan proverb. And if you fuel the dragon with coal, the result is certainly not well done!)

  21. Mallamb

    Well observed, everyone! Now why can't that be anything but vocative?

    Because everybody excludes the speaker. The inclusive equivalent is Well observed, every one of us! With monosyllabic done in place of observed, it's OK rhythmically to say Well done us!.

  22. Mallamb

    Well roared lion! seems inevitably vocative because we remember the scene in Midsummer Night's Dream where Shakespeare has set up the spectacle of the courtiers watching and barracking the hick actors. Surely it's possible to imagine a very different set up with a viewer watching a TV documentary and commenting on the vocal behaviour of animals on screen.

    But no, having written that, I suddenly pictured the toffs shouting comparative comments. If it's Well roared ↘lion! and Well shone ↘moon!, then arguably they aren't vocatives, or perhaps they're simultaneously vocatives and subjects.

  23. We also say Well done that man!, which can't possibly be a vocative. If the man in question is present, then he's intended to overhear praise expressed for the hearing of a third-party audience.

  24. If the sentence could be reworded as “I say “well done” to Thomas”, wouldn’t “Well done” be the direct object and “to Thomas” the indirect object? Then, in “Well done Thomas”, the subject and the verb would be ellipted.

  25. David,
    «Because everybody excludes the speaker.»

    So does 'Well done that man!' I had already mentioned that construction with well bowled, well caught, etc to make the point that 'that man' was not vocative. And JW had already made the same point as you are making with 'Well done us!' by listing 'Well done me!' Doesn’t anyone read previous posts?

  26. well, well ...all's well that ends well!
    @Woiciech: Thanks for brushing up my memory on the source

  27. Kraut

    From the same play: Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania!

    From the same author: If it were done, 'twere well it were done quickly.

  28. Mallamb

    Doesn’t anyone read previous posts?

    Sorry, Mallamb, I missed that one. But I read the others. Honest!

  29. @David Crosbie: Well quoted, Sire! You seem to be a well-informed connoisseur of Shakespeare.

  30. David,

    I'm glad you came round about Well roared ↘lion! and Well shone ↘moon!. I was ambivalent about those vocatives or subjects from the start, and my point in saying to Kraut "Well remembered, dear boy!" was not to go along with a necessarily vocative interpretation of them, but to make the analogy with "Well observed, everyone!" which I had adduced in my previous post as a case which can't be anything but vocative.

    The allegedly Shakespearean commas didn't convince me of such a necessarily vocative interpretation of them the first time round (although here the players are indisputably being addressed, variorum editions show that the originals didn't "stand upon points" any more than Quince did in the Prologue), and neither did Wojciech's argument the second time round. The player did not "play roaring", but did roar, as humans certainly can and do, and may try to do as best a human can in imitation of a lion.

    "Still less did the moon shine" is something I would like to agree with, because it's precisely in the context of "Well roared, Lion" and "Well run, Thisbe" (real running, I trust) and "Well moused, Lion" (real figurative mousing), that it's so gloriously Shakespearean that it's more Wodehousian than Wodehouse.

    But the joke is that it was the character's lantern that was supposed to be the moon, and he the man in the moon, who wasn’t in it at all, but only holding it. So Hippolyta can be interpreted as addressing either the lantern, which did shine, or the character Moonshine, facetiously pretending she admired the way he shone at holding it, which would mean that he shone allosemously.

    Haven't we all done well, when JW said the only other possibility in second place seems to be 'played'?

  31. @ María Lafayette:
    You mean it is difficult to call "Thomas" a vocative because it is an indirect object, in fact?
    (I'm afraid my grammar is a bit rusty - not to mention my vocabulary: If only I could read Shakespeare like the gentlemen above do!)

  32. Beatrice,
    I would say it depends on the context. If I were addressing Thomas, I would read it as a vocative. The other explanation just occurred to me for justifying those contexts in which the person is not present.

  33. Ad Mallamb

    yes I agree that that was a real roar, yet not a lion's, so 'well roar'd, lion' is not exactly on a par with 'well baked, baker' if addressed to a baker who has baked something (well or ill). The actor roared 'for real' but by the very same token he did play something, namely, his lion's roar.

  34. "Well done the cast" is something I can't say at all--which led me to do a little blog post on it:

    (I also did one on 'well done' v 'good job'...a very easy way to tell N American mums at our campus daycare from the locals: )

  35. Wojciech,
    It's "Well roared, Lion", not "Well roared, lion", so no, it's not on a par with "Well baked, baker", where the baker is a baker. The character Lion is not and cannot be a lion, and is not even intended to be a proper lion. He not only roars, but speaks (in doggerel). Now the whole scene is so farcical it's perfectly possible that he's being addressed in character. Consider how actors may be routinely addressed by the names of their characters, with not a thought of farce. But if it is indeed the actor that is being addressed, he is being addressed qua character, by the name of his character, and complimented on his roaring qua man.

    Nothing wrong with any of that as far as my analysis is concerned :)

  36. Oh, and "well put" works as well for me.

  37. Ad Mallamb

    first of all, congratulations on the subtlety of your philosophical analysis, one rarely (I almost wrote 'roarly') comes across such in present-day's discourse.

    I agree with most of what you're saying, and still I can't help thinking that the roaring in question is in a sense 'feigned' and thus not on a par with the other cases. He roared qua man, you say --- well, he was a man so he could not help roaring humanly (I would not say _qua_, I would say _as_, if 'qua' means 'in the capacity of'). But the 'well' in 'Well roared, Lion' is a compliment on the leonine -- rather than human -- quality of his human roaring, is it not? His human roaring was playing a part, that of a leonine roaring, and it was in this capacity that was complimented upon. I don't know if you use, in English, the verb 'to roar' to express any human noises---in Polish we sometimes use the same (corresponding) verb for leonine roaring and either a kind of yelling or a kind of weeping in humans---but it would be utterly weird, in a middle of a rehearsal, for an actor --- adressed, to boot, by the name of his character --- to be complimented on a human act of his/her performed without there being a role assigned to it in the play (should he perform such an act, which he was not supposed to). I hope you can see what I mean.

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  40. Wojciech,
    (3rd attempt. This site is very picky about arrows!)

    Thanks for your kind words, but you say

    «He roared qua man, you say.»

    And I didn't. I said "he is being... complimented on his roaring qua man". The context was "he is being addressed qua character, by the name of his character, and complimented on his roaring qua man." I suppose I expected my meaning to be obvious from the parallelism "addressed [zero] qua character" and "complimented [on his roaring] qua man", or if you like, addressed←(qua←character) and (complimented←(on←(his→roaring)))←(qua←man). I demurred to put all the arrows in as I thought it might get us into a silly argument, but I have probably done that already, so I will say that the arrows are simply arrows of implication, and 'qua' and 'on' are nuclei because it is via them that the government qua implication (or indeed qua anything) goes. But don't give me a hard time. I'll settle for addressed←(qua character) and (complimented on his roaring)←(qua man) if you like.

    A pity I didn't say "complimented qua man on his roaring"!

    I actually at first wrote "'in the capacity of' the character in the play" and "'in the capacity of being' a man" because it was precisely what I meant, and 'as' would not have been precise enough. I think it would also have averted your misunderstanding. But then I reflected that you were a philosopher, and saw an opportunity to prune my word count for once. :)

    «But the 'well' in 'Well roared, Lion' is a compliment on the leonine -- rather than human -- quality of his human roaring, is it not?»

    Yes it is, because the meaning of 'leonine' here is "Resembling a lion or that of a lion", which is in fact def. 1a in OED, and not "Of or relating to a lion", which is def. 2 in OED. That *would* be utterly weird. In that case he would be being complimented not for a lion's roar (adnominal), but for a lion's lion's roar (possessive + adnominal)! And in no case would he be being complimented on the "human quality of his human roaring". Even that would as you say be utterly weird.

    But of course we do use, in English, the verb 'to roar' to express human noises. So Lion (i.e., quite acceptably, the man playing him) had that range of noises within his mental framework, as well as within his physical powers, to work with when expected to roar like a lion, and Demetrius had the knowledge of it within the scope of the concept of roaring to use as a scale of reference when complimenting him on his roaring.

    Camping it up is a good strategy for Lion. I've seen that done. But that's extralinguistic. Sorry.

  41. Wojciech

    'well roar'd, lion' is not exactly on a par with 'well baked, baker'

    For me, the former is a plausible utterance and the latter an extremely strange one. We say Well bowled Fred! or Well caught Fred! either to specify which act within the game we are praising or to identify the object of praise.
    • If the agent is obvious from the context, the verb differentiates the grounds of praise. So the verb form carries the intonation and stress and the naming expression is a vocative.
    • If the grounds of praise are obvious from the context, the agent expression identifies the object of praise. So the naming expression carries the stress and intonation and — at least for some British speakers — may refer to someone other than the addressee, as in Well played that ↘man.
    • If both agent and grounds of praise are equally obvious from the context, an wording which fails to give salience is — of me at least — disturbing to the hearer. I just wouldn't say or expect to hear Well played player! or Well baked baker! If you must mention the agent , then say Well done player/baker. The grounds of praise then require no words to specify.

    The Midsummer Night's Dream scene adds the complication that some things are obvious from the verbal co-text rather than the situational context. Here's the full text:

    SNUG: as Lion O!
    Lion roars. Flute as Thisbe runs off
    DEMETRIUS: Well roared, Lion!
    THESEUS: Well run, Thisbe!
    HIPPOLYTA: Well shone, Moon! Truly, the moon shines with a good grace.
    Lion tears Thisbe's mantle. Exit
    THESEUS: Well moused, Lion!

    If I were director, I would tend to ask the actors to say
    Well ↘roared Lion!
    Well run ↘Thisbe
    Well shone ↘Moon
    Well ↘moused Lion

    For the second and third utterances, Mallamb was right and my first thought was wrong
    Thisbe and Moon are the focuses of new information
    run and shone each represent obvious grounds for praise once we know who is the object of praise

    For the first utterance, it would also be plausible to say Well roared ↘Lion. I prefer the focus on roared as a comically inappropriate word for the act just performed.

    For the last utterance, the addressee is not new. It could be contrastive — but for the fact that moused is a much stronger candidate for focus. The word (and the concept it denotes) is in no way obvious from the context, but is rather a contrived, surprising invention — supposed to show off the wit of the character.

  42. Mallamb, Wojciech

    I think we need to see Shakespeare as enjoying the irony of an actor playing a character criticising a character playing an actor playing a non-human role. Almost every link in the chain of communication is ridiculous.

    • It's ridiculous for Demetrius to be addressing Snug the actor, thereby destroying a theatrical situation.
    • It's ridiculous for Demetrius to criticise the actor as if he were an actual lion

    The same holds for the other nobles criticising the other actors.

    Earlier in the scene, Shakespeare makes much of the actors playing the characters criticising by implication the writer who makes the characters playing actors playing non-human roles do so by speaking at length. Ridiculous.

  43. Yeah, that is all a comedy, irony used amply and overamply, so small wonder we can't get out minds around it (or I can't, at least). Yet praeter ea censeo: 'well roared, Lion' is not quite like 'well done, baker' (thank you David) The baker has baked something real (it is to be hoped), whereas the Lion has produced something which is not that which it pretends to be. Probably because produced qua man (thank you mallamb, well pointed-out). That was my only point.

    Sorry for 'leonine',that is one of my favourite Latinate adjectives in English which I like using ... like 'leporine', 'canine', 'feline', 'ursine', 'bovine', 'porcine', 'equine', 'aquiline' etc. They have their subtleties of meaning, impenetrable to me.

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  45. Wojciech

    The baker has baked something real

    Irony rermoves any relevance. We say can say ' Well baked Fred!' if he has actually baked quite atrociously, and we can say it if we open the oven door and see that he hasn't baked anything at all.

    Telling the cypher constituting the non-human role played by an actor that its 'O' qualifies as 'well roared' is just another form of irony.

    It can be a pretence at a direct address to the cypher (Lion) as a vocative Well ↘roared, Lion!. Or it can be a comment addressed to the other toffs Well roared, ↘Lion!. Both are possible and both are disguised comments aimed at the actor (Snug).

  46. Ad David,

    I agree with what you are saying about the effects of irony, but --- I have no time to check the context --- is Demestrius saying his 'w. r., L.' ironically? Like Snug's roaring having been not really convincingly leonine?

  47. Wojciech

    1. The scene of the nobles watching the play is replete with sarcastic comments from the start.

    2. The graphic representation of Lion's roar is an unimpressive 'O '.

  48. Ad David Crosby,

    thank you for reminding me. I wish I had to refresh in my memory all the master-pieces of literature I read 'in th'olde dayes of that Kynge Arthoure', like 30 years ago in the case of the Shakespearian piece at hand.

    Btw --- some Englishmen seem to think (they told me) that various animal-ine Latinate adjectives are bad choices for speaking of things having the quality of the animal in question. But I have read serious English texts on Machiavelli, in which 'vulpine' (fox's) and 'leonine strategy' (lion's) were used (in Italian, it's mostly 'della volpe', 'del leone', afai can remember). Also, on some US airports there are so-called 'canine officers' with dogs (they are 'canine' in that sense).... . Difficult, all that. On the other hand, if a Mr. Hare discovered something, talking (with reference to that) of a 'Leporine discovery' is hardly more than a joke, well ... is it as little as intelligible qua joke?

  49. sorry --- I wished to say 'I wish I had the time to refresh..'