‘For Goodness Sake’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on August 18, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'for goodness sake' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short:

  • 'For goodness sake' is an expression that can be used to indicate a range of emotions, from annoyance and exasperation to surprise and amazement.
  • It can also be used to add additional emphasis to a statement.

What Does 'For Goodness Sake' Mean?

The phrase 'for goodness sake' is a minced version of the expression 'for God's sake.'

  • A minced oath is an expression that is created by deliberately mispronouncing, misspelling, or replacing a part of a taboo, propane, or blasphemous phrase in order to make the saying less objectionable.

For example, when someone says 'oh my gosh' instead of 'oh my God,' they are using a minced version of the latter expression.

This particular idiom can be used in three different ways:

  1. To indicate annoyance, exasperation, or frustration
  2. To express amazement or surprise
  3. To add emphasis to a statement

There are a number of different euphemistic replacements that can be used to stand in for the word 'God' in this phrase, such as in another popular version of this expression, 'for Pete's sake.'

Where Does 'For Goodness Sake' Come From?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the phrase 'for the sake of' and 'for [something or someone's] sake' meaning "out of regard for or consideration of" a person or thing, dates back to around the year 1200. The phrase 'for God's sake' emerged in the early 1300s.

It is thought that these particular formations derive from Norse rather than Old English.

The word 'goodness' was actually first recorded in the expression 'for goodness sake' in the early 1600s.

Evolution of the Idiom Over Time

The original meaning of the phrase meant "decent, honest, good, or pure." Basically, the notion of doing something 'for goodness sake' meant to be honest, do the right thing, or do good.

Over time, the phrase has evolved in the way it is used and its meaning. These days, it can be used as an expression of emotions like impatience, frustration, or amazement.

We find this expression in Shakespeare's Henry VIII right in the prologue:

"Therefore, for goodness' sake, and as you are known
The first and happiest hearers of the town,
Be sad, as we would make ye: think ye see 
The very persons of our noble story
As they were living; think you see them great,
And follow'd with the general throng and sweat
Of thousand friends; then in a moment, see
How soon this mightiness meets misery:
And, if you can be merry then, I'll say
A man may weep upon his wedding-day."

Some have also attributed the phrase to Plato's Republic, as it is found in some English translations during the section where Glaucon works to encourage Socrates to continue forward in his consideration of the concept of 'goodness.' In these translations, Glaucon tells Socrates he should carry forth 'for goodness' sake.'

The Expression in Historical Texts

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that this expression appears in texts for the entire period of time the tool examines English word usage.

The phrase appears in several early dictionaries and collections of etymological origins from the early 19th century.

In The Whole Work of John Howe from 1822, we find the expression in the following passage:

"He doth good for goodness sake; it is its own reward. It is not for vain glory, not for applause, not that he may draw on a good turn afterwards; it is not to gratify such and such, as hoping they may have opportunity afterwards to grafity him; but it is doing good because it is good for goodness itself's sake.' This is simple goodness, pure goodness, incorrupt goodness, unbribed goodness.'

Another example from the early 19th century is found in Volumes 1 and 2 of Legends of the Library at Lillie's from 1833:

"The key was-- begging you pardon-- in the pocket of my smalls; and my smalls were-- saving your presence-- under my pillow. Notwithstanding all these precautions, the door was thrown open with violence; and, by the light of the lamp on the stair-head, I saw a tall figure of a woman, with an article of white cotton drapery, rush to my bed's head. 'For goodness' sake,' help!' again it cried. I asked a few hurried questions, and felt much distressed; but the only answer I could obtain from her was, that I could save her life,-- perhaps more; for that she meditated a crime which I might prevent. 'For goodness' sake, help!' again she cried, I am on the point of committing suicide."

Examples of This Idiom In Sentences

How would 'for goodness sake' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "I'm so excited that you met someone you like, but don't jump the gun, for goodness' sake! There's no need to run out and get married so soon."
  • "For goodness' sake, what are you doing here, Ms. Johnson? Bob told me you were in Europe for another week!"
  • "Whether or not you're planning on going to the party, just tell Tom what your plans are, for goodness' sake. It's all he'll talk about, so you need to put his mind at ease."
  • "Mrs. Abbot, let me carry that for you, for goodness' sake! There's no reason for you to be carrying something so heavy when the ground is iced over."
  • "I've been at the office since 6 am, for goodness' sake! I don't think it's unreasonable for me to call it a day."
  • "For goodness' sake, can I just have one day where I don't get stuck in traffic for half an hour? Congestion is starting to make this city practically unlivable."
  • "Oh, for goodness' sake, you bought me the dress I said I liked! What a thoughtful and sweet thing for you to do."

Other Ways to Say 'For Goodness Sake'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'for goodness sake'?

Here are some options:

  • For Pete's sake
  • For God's sake
  • For Christ's sake
  • For crying out loud
  • For the love of God

Final Thoughts About 'For Goodness Sake'

The idiom 'for goodness sake' is used to express a range of emotions from surprise to annoyance. The tone of how the phrase is used helps to indicate the emotion that is being conveyed when a person says this phrase. It can also be used to add emphasis to another statement.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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