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[doo-goo d-er, -goo d-]
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  1. a well-intentioned but naive and often ineffectual social or political reformer.
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Origin of do-gooder

1925–30, Americanism; do good + -er1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for do-gooder


  1. informal, usually derogatory a well-intentioned person, esp a naive or impractical one
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Derived Formsdo-goodery, noundo-gooding, noun, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for do-gooder


"a person who seeks to correct social ills in an idealistic, but usually impractical or superficial, way," 1650s (as do-good), in "Zootomia, or Observations on the Present Manners of the English: Briefly Anatomizing the Living by the Dead. With An Usefull Detection of the Mountebanks of Both Sexes," written by Richard Whitlock, a medical doctor. Probably used even then with a taint of impractical idealism. Modern pejorative use seems to have begun on the socialist left, mocking those who were unwilling to take a hard line. OED has this citation, from "The Nation" in 1923:

There is nothing the matter with the United States except ... the parlor socialists, up-lifters, and do-goods.

The form do-gooder appears in American English from 1927, presumably because do-good was no longer felt as sufficiently noun-like. A slightly older word for this was goo-goo.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper