well done the

Often these days my blogging consists of answering queries from readers wondering about this or that thing they've heard or read. I'm going to turn that on its head and ask you about something. It's this little type of exclamation:
In each Festival match of 30 overs we scored over 115 runs and on average only lost 4 wickets an innings – well done the batters.* [Derbyshire Cricket Board]

Well done the players, we knew you had it in you and well done Juande Ramos, you sorted the tactics just right to get the best from our lads [comment on SkySports]

Well done the runners [comment on a JustGiving page]

This for us was an excellent result, playing in a section above a our current one and finishing in the top half of the results, nothing wrong with that, well done the band. Well done the other bands yesterday, it was by all accounts a great contest [Amington Band]

* I also found one example of Well done the batsmen. I know cricket purists will be annoyed by the batter in that example--but BH tends to associate the expression with batter rather than batsmen, so that's what I looked up first.

So...this well done the thing. I can't say it. Better Half says he hears it often in cricket commentary, but that it's rather new. I can't find anything discussing it in the usual places I'd look.

It looks like a congratulatory utterance directed at the named group, but if you're congratulating someone, you'd usually do so by addressing them. In the second example we see an example of that: well done Juande Ramos. But if you're addressing a group by common noun rather than by a proper name, you wouldn't normally in English use a definite determiner (the). So, Well done, runners would be fine in any form of English.

The other thing that it could be is a sort of indirect congratulation, where you're not addressing the congratulatee (congratulee? congratuland?) directly, but expressing your congratulatory sentiments about them to someone else. In this case, common core English would usually use a to: Well done to the runners! Or 'Well done!' to the runners.

Most of the cases of this that I've found involve no mid-phrase punctuation. With a comma after done, I'd think it a straightforward case of direct congratulations, and so would note the weird use of the whoevers as a term of address. Without the comma, it's less clear--though note that the comma is not always used when address terms are used--and may be less often used (or used less often) in less-comma-ful British English. One doesn't see things like the runners being used as a term of address elsewhere in the language. Race officials don't welcome racers with *Hello, the runners. So, it's less than clear that the runners is being used as a term of address.

But I can see no motivation for dropping the to in the indirect form either. I can't imagine similar droppings of to in other indirect greetings. Hello to the children, yes. Hello the children, no. So, I'm sticking with my initial assumption that we're supposed to understand the runners as a term of address in Well done the runners. But then again, there is the BrE Up the runners, which is also missing a preposition (with) from my AmE perspective. BH's perception is that that use of up is (his words) (BrE) "toffee-nosed Oxbridge talk" and well done the is in a different class--but others may have different perceptions of the two constructions. I'd love to hear about them.

Because BH knew this from cricket, I had a snoop around other countries--I found only one case on an .au site (searching for batters, batsmen, bowlers, players and runners), none on .ie, .pk, .nz or .za, and the only one I found in a few pages of sorting through Indian sites was by a New Zealander. So, it's looking pretty British to me--though whether it's coming from a particular dialect is not at all clear, since I've found it all over the country.

So, who's got [orig. AmE] the scoop on the origins of this construction? And is there anyone out there whose brain isn't a bit jangled by it?


  1. As a child I remember seeing Gateshead Harriers fans holding up signs reading "Howay the lads" in Track and Field News' photos of Brendan Foster, a long-distance star of the day. I assumed the construction was Geordie, not having seen it anywhere else, but I don't know. "Howay" was explained to me as a contraction of "have away". Exotic stuff for me, a young track nut in the US.

  2. Ooh, good one. This reminds me that I've also seen C'mon the lads and similar things.

    The 'the lads' seems to be caught between being a term of address and a term of reference...

  3. I think it has to be to dropping, but, like you, I have no idea why.

    Doesn't explain C'mon the lads though, unless the lads gained currency through well done the lads or similar and moved on from there.

  4. I am reminded of the French "Salut/au revoir les enfants", where the definite article is alien to the English equivalents. I doubt if that's at all relevant.

    robert61's comment is indeed good. It seems to me that Northern English is the cradle of British sporting neologisms, just as Cockney/Estuary is for many other pop-cultural spheres.

    I think it's useful to have a mode of expression for sports fans which is halfway between the direct "well done lads" and the indirect "well done to the lads", because sports fans like to create a fantasy of personal involvement with their team, notably by using "we" to refer to the team. Whether this is the origin of the phraseology I know not.

    "Up with (the) X" and "Up (the) X" are phrases I would never say, but the latter is just outside my usage whereas the former is far far away; it sound antique or stilted. "Up with X" connotes "I am in favour of X", whereas "Up X" means "Come on X", "Go X", "Forza X", "X abú", etc.

    "Up the Arsenal" and "Up Down" are good chants.

  5. This is an example of what I would call "British commentary speak". It's not really directed at the group being congratulated. It's part of a slightly false "matey" or "laddish" way of speaking that sports commentators especially like using. It's also the kind of speech people use when they get hold of a microphone at some outdoor event and are trying to keep a positive atmosphere going. It would never be used in a face-to-face encounter.

  6. Sounds about right, but what does it achieve? Identifying oneself as a sportscaster? Distancing oneself from the team by avoiding the address form? How does that create a positive attitude?

    I know, sometimes things are the way they are because that's the way they are, but I'd still like to find the seed of a semantic/pragmatic reason for it going this way. If it's part of a (more general) Northern dialectal feature, then that could contribute to a 'matey' feel to it, I suppose...but I don't think we have enough evidence for that yet...

  7. As an American, I'd always assumed it was some kind of lingering remnant of a more archaic English usage, preserved by tradition or custom in some way similar to the expression "Ahoy the boat!". Though unlike the nautical term, I've never heard "well done the x" used by an American.

  8. I would agree with Andy JS about "It's not really directed at the group being congratulated". As a non-native English speaker, I see this "well done the" phrase as a combination of the exclamation "well done!" (as in AmE "good job!") and an inversed indicative statement "The runners/batters/etc have done well". This could explain both the absence of comma after "done" and any "you's" that follow or are around, and maybe even this "the" that disturbs you. But what do I know. :)

  9. Well done the 'separated by a common language' blog!

  10. To Ahoy the boat! we can add the rural American Hello the house!, called out to indicate that the occupant of the house have visitors, to give them a chance to put things into shape.

  11. I agree that it sounds like an attempt at semi-direct address to the batsmen by a faux-chummy commentator, in circumstances where a direct address, "well done batsmen", would sound false as they are not listening.

    The only "up" phrase I can think of is "up the workers", which is a rather old-fashioned BrE phrase that sounds ironic or ambiguous at best, the sort of thing that might have been said (perhaps without irony) by Peter Sellers' character in the wonderful film, I'm Alright Jack.

    I am also reminded of my school Latin, and the vocative, Hail Caesar!

  12. I don't know if this is any help but my Mum uses 'Steady the Buffs' to tell us to curb our enthusiasm! It's military in origin, The Buffs, I presume, referring to a regiment of khaki clad soldiers keen to get their first shots off.

  13. A non professional's take.

    It's sort of a halfway house in a sequence:
    "the lads did well"
    "well done the lads"
    "well done, lad!"

  14. To me, "Well done, the ----" sounds rather old-fashioned and would-be posh. Headmaster of a very, very minor public school would be about right. A team or regiment would have a nickname, usually in the form of "the ---" (where --- represents a plural noun or an adjective + s, e.g., The Gunners or The Blues). The team/regiment being congratulated or some of their members would be part of the audience, or the speaker and the real audience wanted to pretend they were.

  15. @Jo
    Here is the Wikipedia answer to your presumption:
    Steady The Buffs

  16. There's also the semi-jocular/patronising "Well done that man!" which is slightly different in emphasis, but the same principle, I think.

  17. One might also hear "Well done that man" or similar. I think the usage of 'that' in this case and 'the' in the case of 'the runners' are of similar origin and intent. Both phrases would be directed at a larger group where the man or runners themselves might or might not hear it.

  18. Irish sporting teams, particularly in the GAA (organised on parish and county lines) are commonly cheered on with "Up Kerry!" and so forth.

  19. @Andy J
    That is satisfyingly interesting. Thank you very much :-)

  20. The last time I heard "Up the x" called from the sidelines was by my father in England in the mid-70s (and it sounded dated then!), but eimear's comment reminded me that I've heard "Up x" used in Scotland by a friend shouting encouragement to her Hockey (AmE "Field Hockey") team mates as late as the mid-90s. The friend is anything but, but the phrase struck me as terribly "jolly hockey sticks".

    There is also "Up-Up-Up-Up!" shouted as encouragement to racing cyclists, though as this was often shouted as they toiled on an ascent, it is perhaps unrelated!

  21. My guess is that the "well done the" thing is not originally at all matey, but quite de haut en bas.

    Headmistress to school sort of thing: "The boys, as usual, did not perform well. But the gels won the county prize for best posture. Well done the gels!"

    So, I think, it's originally addressing from above an audience of two parts (eg some being batsmen, some bowlers), and giving praise to one of the parts.

  22. In French, it's "bien joué X" (for a proper name) or "Bien joué le/la/les" otherwise, because all nouns must have a determiner. Maybe there's a connection there?

  23. "is there anyone out there whose brain isn't a bit jangled by it?"

    As a Northern English person brought up speaking a combination of Geordie and Pitmatic, I have to say my brain is not in the slightest bit "jangled" by the idea of "well done the X".

    I've heard that sort of thing all my life, from "Howay the lads!" to "well done, Class 7B" and so forth. Having said that, Northern English dialects often drop words ("Dinner's on table, love. I'll stick kettle on" would not be an out of place form of speech in many northern towns) so perhaps it's just an idiosyncrasy that has crept into other forms of English over the last few years?

  24. @Zoe: It may well be a northern thing, but some of the examples you've given are not examples of the bit that I found jangling--i.e. having the 'the' there. So I'd expect that Well done, class 7b wouldn't jangle in any dialect. The later examples delete the, so seem to be a different phenomenon than this one.

  25. Some random thoughts:

    I spent many years in the North-east of England, and Howay! as an exclamation, or 'Howay the Lads' were in fairly regular use. I was told that the word was derived from Hue (pronounced hoo-ay) as in 'Hue and cry' in pursuit of a criminal. Perhaps Hurray has a similar history.

    I agree with BH in his feeling that 'well done!' is rather upper-crust; firstly, I can definitely remember the rather grand BBC cricket commentators saying 'Well done the fielders' or something similar ... secondly, earlier this year I sang with my choir at an extremely exclusive venue (a Royal chapel, since you ask) and when I arrived at the rehearsal and gave my name, the chapel assistant said 'well done'. Was this to congratulate me for knowing my own name, or for arriving on time, or did it just mean, thank you?

    There's a parallel phrase 'Good for the girls' team' or 'Good for you'. And, like 'Well done', it can also have an ironic use - but we've done that already....

  26. @biochemist: Just to clarify, BH thought 'up the X' was upper-crust. He didn't give a class verdict on 'well done'!

    For what it's worth, I should probably link back here to a previous discussion of 'Well done'...

  27. Inappropriately saying "well done" at every opportunity is very much an English class thing - retired army officers spring to mind. It is really another way of saying jolly good, or good show (both of which are even more dated). Well meant, and intended to be encouraging, but it comes across as rather patronising and caricaturish.

    Sorry that this is off-topic, but it doesn't fit within this thread or the other one that Lynne has just referred to.

  28. Didn't Wolfie Smith in the TV programme popularise up the workers.

    As for well done lads or well done the lads or well done the band I have heard both fairly often. However I do live in the North in the Lakes so it may be a norther expression.

  29. Up here (ScE) there is nothing outdated, upper class or rare about the use of "come on the" at football matches in particular. "Come on the Rangers/Celtic/Thistle/Saints" can be heard every day, although rather less frequently in the case of the latter two. I have long suspected this to be a hangover from Scottish Gaelic, in which the definite article is far commoner than in English. And we also, for instance, are much more likely to say we are in THE hopsital or have THE flu, as in AmE... which also has many Scots influences. We also use and hear constructions like "she's some woman the Lynne" (pronounced wumman though).

  30. Agree with Cameron that "come on the" is pretty standard in Scotland, and have shouted it many a time myself(to zero effect) from the stands (= bleachers) at my own underperforming team in Edinburgh. On the point about the use of "the" in "some wumman the Lynne", this can be heard in colloquial French as well ("elle est futé, la Lynne", for ex.), but what that tells us, je ne dinnae ken pas.

  31. Ahem, that should be "futée". Mondays, sigh...

  32. Appropraite as it's at the futee (don't have those accents, sorry) that we mostly use it.

    You'll be a Hearts fan then? As Hibs aren't underperforming at the moment. Some man the Vladimir, eh?

    (Apologies for offtopicness, but I couldn't resist).

  33. I wouldn't find "Hello, the runners" that odd, I think- I mean looking at it, yes, but over a PA at the finish line of a race as the people started streaming in, I probably wouldn't even notice- particularly if it was part of a list; "Hello the runners, the unicyclers and the hoppists"

    (UK, mostly southern, middle-class)

  34. @joe1959 "Up up up up" is heard from ski racing fans too, and they're definitely not headed uphill! I had always understood it as an anglicized version of "hopp" — German for "go."

  35. @Cameron, re Vladimir: aye, more a case of "C'mon the new owner, wherever you are...please...there must be somebody out there somewhere."
    I'll stop now before we get (rightly) banned for footy banter.

  36. In the case of AmE in the hospital, the source is surely Hiberno-English rather than Scottish English or Scots, even Ulster Scots. Note that for jail and school the pattern is the same in AmE as in BrE (EE?): Elvis was in the jail for a while, but never in jail.

    I've commented about "Up the Irish!" as a New York and Boston expression before.

  37. Well done you for spotting this. Carry on!

  38. "Up the Gers", "up the Scots" and even "up your kilt" are all pretty common here, too. What makes you so sure it's from IrE?

    By the way, ScE is a subset of BrE.

  39. Canada here: "well done the X" is completely unknown to me. The closest I can attest is "Well done, you!" and that from an older generation.

  40. I (BrE) wonder if the "the" is being used to signify uniqueness.

    That is, "well done lads" addresses those lads who happen to be present, but "well done the lads" acknowledges that there are no other lads in the whole world, or at least none who are worth anyone's attention at the time the words are spoken.

    We say "The Blues" because there's only one regiment that the phrase can refer to. Saying "the lads" temporarily puts those lads into the same category: any other "lads" are mere pretenders.

  41. I thought of this thread today when I found myself commenting on a friend's Facebook,"Happy birthday your twins!", not "to your twins", as perhaps might have been more grammatically correct.

    I'm now wondering whether "Well done the lads" doesn't also have an understood "to" in there....

  42. I had never heard "Well done you" in AmE. Tonight, I was watching the film "Happy-Go-Lucky" and noticed this in the dialogue.

    I was all set to report this here as another example of BrE that doesn't scan well in AmE, and now I see that Graham Asher has used that very phrase here. I'm assuming he is a BrE speaker?

  43. @Lew Lasher: "Well done you!" is very British - an American would, I think, be more likely to say "Great job!" under similar circumstances.

  44. Moreover, in "well done you", the "you" does not appear to be a vocative. As I heard it spoken in the movie/film, I don't believe there was a pause, as in "well done, you" (with comma).

  45. "Well done you!" is definitely vocative, with no comma or pause for breath. Usually said on a rising intonation.

  46. From the US... and I say "well done, you!" (with comma as shown) and also "Hello, you!" and "What's up/What's good, you?" all of the time.

    The "well done the" thing reminds me of the kind of local intentional departure from rules of grammar I saw [or heard] when living in the American South (Charleston,SC.) There, educated people in good humor say, "You done good." Perhaps it's very like "the lads done well", rather than did well, only out of sequence? Though, probably not.

  47. This BrE construction actually comes from our national anthem which includes: "God save the queen." When we all get out of bed to stand and sing it as Radio 4 is closing down at night, we're not actually asking the deity to save the monarch from anything. Rather, it's a way of saying "cheers, your majesty" to an almost certainly sleeping sovereign. This anthem has also inspired "away the lads", used to encourage the Newcastle United football/soccer team. A parallel, vocative, form is "come on, you Spurs" where the non-standard "you" is inserted for metrical purposes. The "well done" in "well done the batters" is cognate with the "OK" in "skinheads rule OK", just stuck at the other end. These constructions are like mini-toasts - not the sort you can eat but the sort you say before you have a drink. They're a way of appearing to address someone whose absence precludes them from hearing you. They are perhaps also little spells cast over remote sportsmen. In old English epic verse, these expressions were arranged as pairs of half-lines. To the left of the caesura was the person being toasted, blessed or jinxed; to the right the benediction, oath or imprecation; in between, the mournful strum of a harp. Late into the medieval night the feudal loaf-ward would sit in his wicker mead-hall with his cringing vassals and thanes variously praising and condemning participants in the Anglo-Frisian Knockout League Cup sponsored, of course, by Iceland.

  48. In Irish sporting contexts fans shout:
    "Up the Banner!"
    "Up the Kingdom!"
    "Up the Royals!"
    County Clare being 'the Banner County', Kerry 'the Kingdom' and Meath 'the Royal County' in inter-country Gaelic football and hurling. There are more examples in which the nickname of the country is pluralised - Cork are 'the rebels', and so on. Don't know if this is relevant!


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AmE = American English
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