What Is the Origin of the Phrase, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished?

“No good deed goes unpunished” is considered a proverb.
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While the meaning of “No good deed goes unpunished” is not hard to interpret, its origin is. The meaning is similar in content to several Bible verses, and is defined by Using English as "life is unfair, and people can do or try to do good things and still end up in a lot of trouble.” Although it likely is a proverb dating back centuries, it has been credited to various 20th century wits and writers.

1 Possible Dates of Origin

A slightly different phrasing, "Every good deed brings its own punishment," has been attributed to British diarist James Agate in 1938. The phrase has also been credited to John P. Grier, an American financier who died in 1939, and Andrew W. Mellon, a banker and former Treasury Secretary who died in 1937.

2 No Good Phrase Uncredited

The person most frequently credited as the originator of the phrase is playwright Clare Boothe Luce. Also credited have been playwright Noel Coward, writer Oscar Wilde, journalist Walter Winchell and the late Washington Post writer Bill Gold.

Laura Payne has been freelance writing for several online publications in her free time since 2006. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Oakland University. Payne teaches linguistics classes at both universities on an adjunct basis.