No good deed goes unpunished.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by megchan, Apr 30, 2010.

  1. megchan

    megchan Member

    Japan Japanese
    Hello, there.

    I have found an strange idiom that no good deed goes unpunished.

    I was puzzled so I googled it.
    I found the site that explains a lot of idiomatic expressions.

    It say, this idiom means that life is unfair and people can do or try to do good things and still end up in a lot of trouble.

    Is it correct?

    However, a Canadian says that it means 'if you do something good, you will end up in trouble.'

    This idiom includes more cynical and negative nuance than I think in his opinion.

    What do you think?
    I would like to know many people's ideas about the idiom.

    If he, the Canadian, was right, I suppose nobody would not like to do any good things for anybody. Of course, there are a lot of people that do good things in the world.
    And is it from the Bible? Is it form British English or American English?

    Actually. first he didn't know the idiom precisely. He thought it as 'no good deed goes unnoticed' or 'no bad deed goes unpunished'.

    Thank you in advance.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2010
  2. AlabamaBoy

    AlabamaBoy Senior Member

    Northern Colorado USA
    American English
    It is very widely heard in books, TV shows, plays and in the workplace.
    It is a very cynical twist on "No good deed is ever wasted."
    'If you do something good, you will end up in trouble' has almost the same meaning.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2010
  3. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I don't think this is an idiom, if it is correct. I would have expected 'No good deed goes unrewarded'.

    A verse from the Bible is 'Your labour in the Lord is not in vain' (1 Cor 15.18).
  4. megchan

    megchan Member

    Japan Japanese
    Thank you for answering my questions so quickly, AlabamaBoy and natkretep.

    I guess the original meaning of this expression has been gradually changing while being used repeatedly.
    Because of the double negative form, it is hard to understand for non-native speakers of English.
    However, the double negative form could be understood as the affirmative form.
    Of course, if it were affirmative, the impact of this expression would be not as strong as the original one.

    Therefore, I am still confused.
  5. AlabamaBoy

    AlabamaBoy Senior Member

    Northern Colorado USA
    American English
    It does mean that "every good deed will be punished". It is in double negative form in order to have an ironic flavor, and to sound like the start of "No good deed is ever wasted/in vain." .
  6. DSmith New Member

    U.S. - Alabama
    English - U.S.
    I usually see it used, ironically, in the aftermath of an attempted good deed that went awry. A good example would be attempting to save someone's life, only to be sued because you accidentally injured the person during the attempt. If you related that incident to me, I might reply; "No good deed goes unpunished".
  7. megchan

    megchan Member

    Japan Japanese
    Thank you again, AlabamaBoy.

    It is an easy-to-understand explanation.
    By the way, in this case, does the word 'punish' mean 'to treat somebody unfairly or discriminate against somebody' or 'to blame yourself for sth that has happened'?

    If you answered this question, it would be a great help for me.
  8. analicia Member

    English-United States
    A related idiom is "You can't please everyone..." [If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.]

    If I bend over backwards to try and help someone and they are ungrateful and the whole thing blows up in my face and it turns out that I would have been better off not helping them in the first place, I might shake my head and say "no good deed goes unpunished," meaning, I shouldn't have tried to help this person because he did not appreciate it and I am worse off for having helped him.
  9. megchan

    megchan Member

    Japan Japanese
    Thank you so much, everyone.
    It is a great help.

    By the way, analicia, according to your answer, the meaning of 'punish' seems to be 'to treat somebody unfairly'. Am I correct?

    I would like to know the exact meaning of the word 'punish'.
    The translation of this word is mainly 'to subject somebody to a penalty for wrongdoing' or 'to respond to a crime or other wrong act by imposing a penalty' in Japan.

    Thank you in advance.
  10. analicia Member

    English-United States
    The use of the work "punish" in this idiom is an exaggeration--it's not that the person I tried to help is actually, technically punishing me. It's just that they were not grateful for my help and I'm saying that I wish I had not meddled/stuck my nose in/butted in. I feel like I should have just minded my own business instead of trying to help.
  11. margiemarz Member

    I agree with the website you googled. "...this idiom means that life is unfair and people can do or try to do good things and still end up in a lot of trouble." It is a cynical and ironic statement.
  12. megchan

    megchan Member

    Japan Japanese
    Thank you, margiemarz. I think so too.
    However, the Canadian didn't agree with me. Therefore, I guessed that there might be various kinds of ideas about this idiom in the world and I posted to know what native speakers of English think about it.

    In Japan, there are so many idiomatic expressions as proverbs and they had originally had the fixed meaning.
    But recently they have been gradually changing while being used.
    In most cases, they are misused, especially among young people.

    Of course, I know the expressions are often changed and created.

    Thank you again.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2010
  13. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    Are you sure about the second part of that quote? Right now it says that all acts of charity escape resentment, which doesn't match the beginning of the quote. I would have expected: No good deed goes unpunished, no act of charity goes unresented.

    Added: Just searched for the script and the line (on page 47) is as I suggested above. (Script) You can use the "Search within document" box to find it -- or just type "47" in the box to go to that page.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2012
  14. pwmeek

    pwmeek Senior Member

    SE Michigan, USA
    English - American
    "No good deed goes unpunished" is a quip or humorous observation, rather than a proverb. It is intended to be heard as a joke. Most good deeds are rewarded, or at least appreciated. To say otherwise is to comment that life is occasionally unfair. Particularly, when the quip is used as a response to one of those occasions where a good deed results in disaster, it is a very effective way to soften the feeling of failure or futility.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2012
  15. I agree with pwmeek. "No good deed goes unpunished" is a lighthearted remark, often used when doing a favor or trying to make a simple improvement results in extra work or expense. It's the sort of thing said in workplaces when, for example, an employee make a suggestion and then ends up with a big new assignment based on the suggestion. It's not meant to be a dark, cynical statement about the futility of doing good.
  16. valuetheperson New Member

    English - Scotland
    Is 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' in the same genre?
  17. AlabamaBoy

    AlabamaBoy Senior Member

    Northern Colorado USA
    American English
    I always thought that the meaning was significantly different. The person has the intention to good, but for various reasons does not actually do what was intended. That is different, in my mind, from being punished for doing good deeds.
  18. JOHN52 New Member

    english - ireland
    To punish means there must be a punisher. It is more than bad luck, it is someone who resents the good-doer. The saying or quote is thought-provoking. For instance, a good-doer gets noticed, and doing anything may inconvenience someone. So the good-doer can be criticised for being a 'goodie-goodie' etc, or causing inconvenience to someone. So if you let someone through a door first you are inconveniencing the person behind you. So the good-doer becomes a target for anyone to comment on them or criticise them, whereas a passer-by does not get noticed and so stays 'unpunished' for any of their wrongs. The lesson is to not let anyone know if you do good, unless you are perfect and safe from anyone attacking you. Examples are many but I will not write them for fear of being accused of making comparisons, but start with the peace-makers in history? The problem with the phrase is the absolute 'no', which may imply a universal something like Newton's Third Law of Motion: equal and opposite reactions. Perhaps the phrase is saying to be careful about disturbing the existing balance.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2016

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