No good deed goes unpunished

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The phrase 'No good deed goes unpunished' is a sardonic commentary on the frequency with which acts of kindness backfire on those who offer them. In other words, those who help others are doomed to suffer as a result of their helpfulness.

It has been attributed to several luminaries, including Billy Wilder,[1] writer Clare Booth Luce, American financier John P. Grier, banker Andrew W. Mellon,[2] and Oscar Wilde. Although its actual origin has never been established, Dante Alighieri wrote a similar adage in his narrative poem The Divine Comedy: "amor sementa in voi d'ogne virtute/e d'ogni operazion che merta pene" ("love is the seed in you of every virtue/and of all acts deserving punishment").[3] In one form or another, the saying dates back to the 14th century, if not to antiquity, with a bitter disillusionment redolent of the Book of Job.

The phrase has been quoted by authors such as Brendan Gill in his 1950 novel The Trouble of One House.[4] It is also featured prominently in the song No Good Deed, from the hit Broadway musical Wicked.[5] A satirical poem by Franklin Pierce Adams with the title "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (So Shines a Good Deed in a Naughty World)" also exists.[6]


  1. ^ "". Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  2. ^ "The Phrase Finder". Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  3. ^ Alighieri, Dante; Armour, Peter (1995). The Divine Comedy. New York: Knopf. p. 296. ISBN 9780679433132. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  4. ^ Gill, Brendan (1950). The Trouble of One House. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. p. 28. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  5. ^ "My Routine: Christine Dwyer, actress". Courier-Journal. September 14, 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  6. ^ "Holy Joe's". Retrieved 9 February 2020.