To say, “good riddance” means you’re feeling a welcome relief from unpleasant company or an annoying situation, which could be anything from a bad cold to Aunt Bessie.
“Riddance” is a word that is no longer used except in this particular expression. In the 1500s a “riddance” was a general-purpose noun and meant “deliverance from” or “getting rid of.”
Shakespeare appears to be the coiner of “good riddance,” in Troilus and Cressida (1606), but the first adjectives to be linked with the word were fayre, happy, and gladsome. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1600), Portia wishes the Prince of Morocco “a gentle riddance.” John Rastell, in his poem, Away Mourning, circa 1525, uses “a fayre ryddaunce.”
The phrase may be more familiar as “good riddance to bad rubbish” or, as it was first coined, “good riddance of bad rubbish.” Tobias Smollett used the phrase in a none too friendly comment, in The Critical Review, 1805: “But we are sorry … to consider Mr. Pratt’s writings as ‘purely evil’ … we should really look upon this author’s departure from the world of literature as a good riddance of bad rubbish.”
The Mr Pratt referred to appears to be Samuel Jackson Pratt (1749-1814), a prolific English poet, playwright and novelist who was living with an unmarried woman, thus tainted by scandal. He is remembered as the first English writer to treat the American Revolution as a legitimate topic for literature, and as an early campaigner for animal rights. We don’t know what he had done or written at that particular time to be on the receiving end of such vitriol from Smollett.
According to The Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs and Sayings, the earliest known usage of this expression in the US was in 1771.
Francis Preston Blair, an American journalist and member of President Andrew Jackson’s ‘Kitchen Cabinet,’ wrote an editorial in The Extra Globe, 1841. In this editorial, he appears to have been the first to use the exact version of the phrase now most commonly used.
We could always turn the phrase around and say, “bad riddance of good stuff” when we’ve thrown out the egg instead of the eggshell.