Hail fellow well met

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"Hail fellow well met" is a somewhat archaic English idiom used when referring to a person whose behavior is hearty, friendly, and congenial.[citation needed]


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives a 1589 quotation for this phrase as a friendly greeting, and quotations for the related phrase "hail fellow",[full citation needed] a greeting that apparently dates to medieval times.[original research?][citation needed] "Well met" appears[to whom?] to have been added to the phrase in the 16th century to intensify its friendliness,[original research?][citation needed] and derives from the concept of "good to meet you", and also from the meaning of "meet" as something literally the right size for a given situation.[original research?][citation needed]

Historic usage[edit]

The expression appeared in Jonathan Swift's My Lady's Lamentation (1728).[full citation needed][non-primary source needed] [Relevance?]

The phrase appears in a section entitled "Sad"—in the Aeolus episode[citation needed]—in James Joyce's novel, Ulysses (1918), at the end of a description of the behaviour newspaper men: "Funny the way the newspaper men veer about when they get wind of a new opening. Weathercocks. Hot and cold in the same breath. Wouldn't know which to believe. One story good till you hear the next. Go for one another baldheaded in the papers and then all blows over. Hailfellow well met the next moment."[1][non-primary source needed] [Relevance?]

The early twentieth-century English novelist W. Somerset Maugham frequently used the term in his novels and short stories,[citation needed] in particular when he describes male characters of a genial, sociable, and hard-drinking temperament (e.g., Of Human Bondage,[2] The Trembling of a Leaf,[full citation needed] and Then and Now[full citation needed]).[citation needed][original research?]

Contemporary usage[edit]

In modern English, the idiom is defined as "heartily friendly and congenial, comradely, hail-fellow—characteristic of or befitting a friend; 'friendly advice'; 'a friendly neighborhood'; 'the only friendly person here'; 'a friendly host and hostess'."[3][clarification needed] As such, the idiom is used as an exaggerated greeting, or as a description of a personality type.[citation needed] Hence, modern use of the term tends to be deliberately archaic,[according to whom?] with overtones of over-familiarity in the person so described (almost always male), or as a deliberate, tongue in cheek term of endearment;[citation needed] in the latter case it heightens the effect of the greeting of an unexpected friend (as in "the only friendly person here"[this quote needs a citation]), or to communicate the idea of a friend in an otherwise unfriendly environment.[citation needed]

In modern use, the idiom can also be used as a pejorative to describe a person—again, usually male—who is skilled at making superficial friendships or can ingratiate themselves quickly with any company at hand[citation needed] (a connotation, which per the OED's entry on "hail fellow," dates to at least the 17th century).[full citation needed]

Linguistic observations[edit]

Kuiper uses the fact that this idiom is a phrase that is a part of the English lexicon (technically, a "phrasal lexical item"),[4] and that there are different ways that the expression can be presented—for instance, as the common "hail-fellow-well-met," which appears as a modifier before the noun it modifies,[5][6] versus the more original greeting form of "Hail fellow. Well met"; these variants are given as an example to explain how changes between the two (deformation), performed for the sake of artistry in writing (i.e., artistic deformation), can move alternative interpretations to the foreground (i.e., can create "syntactic ambiguity"[citation needed] [7]); that is, ambiguity can be foregrounded by artistic deformation, including, Kuiper notes, toward the end of creating humorous interpretations.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

In music, the variant Greetings, well met fellow, hail! is used in "Songs From The Wood", a song by Jethro Tull (1977).[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Anon. (2008) "Hail Fellow Well Met," in Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Cambridge, ENG: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521674689 see [1], accessed 5 November 2015.


  1. ^ Joyce, James (2000) [1918]. "Sad". In Kiberd, Declan. Ulysses. Everyman's library, Modern Classics 100. London, ENG: Penguin. pp. 158f. ISBN 0141182806. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Somerset Maugham, William (1915) [1915]. Of Human Bondage. New York, NY, USA: Grosset & Dunlap. p. 561. Retrieved 5 November 2015. He had a persuasive hail-fellow well-met air with him which appealed to customers of this sort... 
  3. ^ "Hail-fellow-well-met - definition of hail-fellow-well-met by The Free Dictionary". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2015-11-06. 
  4. ^ Needed here is a citation to define the term.[citation needed]
  5. ^ a b Kuiper, Koenraad (2007). "Cathy Wilcox meets the phrasal lexicon: Creative deformation of phrasal lexical items for humorous effect". In Munat, Judith. Lexical Creativity, Texts and Contexts. Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics 58. Amsterdam, NH, NLD: John Benjamins. pp. 101, 93. doi:10.1075/sfsl.58.14kui. ISBN 9027215677. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  6. ^ The appearance of the idiom before the noun it modifies classifies its use in this case as a "prenominal modifier." See Kuiper (2007), op. cit., [Needed here is a further citation to define the term.],[citation needed] and Maugham (1915), op. cit. for an example.
  7. ^ Given that this term is not defined from a reliable source at the linked article, needed here is a further citation to define the term.[citation needed]
  8. ^ "Jethro Tull - Songs From The Wood Lyrics". SongMeanings. Retrieved 2015-11-06. 

External links[edit]