Christmas Words (2): Goodwill

In yesterday’s post, we looked at a word from the most common Christmas greeting. I’d like to continue with part of another greeting – or you could call it a wish or blessing:

  • Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all!

This phrase originates in the Bible, where a chorus of angels are recorded as singing these words (Luke 2:14).

In written English, you’ll often see Christmas called ‘the season of peace and goodwill’.

What is goodwill?

My trusty friend Merriam-Webster defines goodwill as a kindly feeling of approval and support.

North Americans also know it as the name of a chain of non-profit stores that has a reputation for employing people in need.

How do we use this word?

You can demonstrate goodwill towards another person by avoiding actions that harm them.

Organisations and businesses often try to build / cultivate / foster goodwill among the public – for instance by supporting charities, avoiding negative publicity, designing cute mascots etc.

Of course, you can also lose goodwill, either in whole or in part. Negative publicity can lose a company a lot (a substantial amount) of goodwill.

A less comfortable situation one in which you are forced to rely on the goodwill of a powerful person or organisation. Many of us have been in this situation as consumers when trying to negotiate with a large corporation or a government office!


Plenty of everyday situations rely on goodwill from both sides. For instance, an employer relies on the employee to do the work as well as they can, while the employee relies on the employer to pay on time and avoid making unreasonable demands. When this goodwill breaks down, everything gets uncomfortable!

One way to deal with an emerging conflict before it gets worse is to make a goodwill gesture / make a gesture of goodwill.

For example, an employer might try to resolve a dispute with an employee by offering a small pay raise as a goodwill gesture, or a retailer might offer a partial refund for a broken item. Calling these payments a goodwill gesture is a way to avoid accepting fault: the message is ‘You aren’t entitled to this, but on this occasion we’re choosing to be generous to you’. Companies are fond of using this explanation when dealing with journalists, probably so that other disappointed customers don’t come forward expecting the same compensation.

Does goodwill have an opposite?

Yes. Ill will – written as two words (and sometimes hyphenated as ill-will).

For example:

  • I don’t have any ill will towards them. I just don’t like them; that’s all.

What about if I describe someone as strong-willed?

Ah, now that’s a slightly different context. You’re saying this person has a lot of self-belief: the kind of “will to power” that Nietzsche wrote about.

Related to that phrase, you can say someone has an iron will – they know what they want and are (possibly too) stubborn about trying to get it!

The opposite is weak-willed.

You can use will as a verb. You can will something to happen whether or not you actually have control of it. Football fans around the world have spent a lot of time recently willing various balls to travel inside various metal frames in Qatar.

You may also have heard the proverb Where there’s a will, there’s a way: the suggestion here is that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.

But that’s nonsense! I can’t will myself to fly, for instance.

No, and we have an idiom for that too. (Even) with the best will in the world…

It tends to be followed with a negative clause:

  • Even with the best will in the world, I can’t give help to everyone who needs it.
  • With the best will in the world, we weren’t able to stop [the other team] scoring those goals.

It’s not always clear whether will here is the goodwill kind or the strong-willed kind, and having checked through real-life examples in the COCA database, I’d say it can take either meaning, or both at once.

That’s all very nice, but I’m a venture capitalist and I don’t have time for airy-fairy notions of goodwill. If it has no monetary value, I’m not interested!

Actually, you can put a monetary value on goodwill. Or at least, accountants can. Here’s Investopedia’s definition:

Embedded from

If you’ve ever browsed adverts for shops, cafes and other business premises, you’ll have seen the line Includes goodwill, fixtures and fittings. Apparently, all of these terms have a definition in law, and can even be taxable (depending on country, of course).

Let’s just be glad that peace isn’t taxable.

Amen to that.

Speaking of which, some governments and organisations now employ goodwill ambassadors. The United Nations has hundreds of these, along with thirteen “Messengers of Peace“. Not quite the same as an angel chorus, but still worth a mention.

Peace and goodwill to you, dear readers!

Main Photo: Adam Kontor, from Pexels.

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