so be good for goodness sake

I’m taking a break from serious content to bring you frivolous xmas post, 2009.

You know that song “Santa Clause is Coming to Town?” It contains the lyric: “so be good for goodness sake.” But this is clearly inconsistent with the content of the song, and it drives me crazy.

Being good for goodness’ sake means that you should be good because it has intrinsic value for you, or value not as a means to any other end. But the song is all about how Santa is watching you, and how you won’t get presents if you are bad. This suggests that being good has merely extrinsic or instrumental value, value as a means to some end (the presents).

So, Christmas carolers, if you want to teach your kids that being good has intrinsic value, UR DOIN IT WRONG.

And to all a good night.


  • That’s not the only thing that’s wrong with it. It’s also ungrammatical! “Goodness” should be possessive (“goodness’s sake”).

    But alas, now that it’s an idiom, the rules of grammar no longer apply.

  • Yep, that’s true! I actually checked earlier tonight, and it turns out that either goodness’s or goodness’ is acceptable, but definitely not goodness. Stupid song! :-)

  • the meaning of the expression isn’t a function from the meaning of its parts. you can tell because you can’t, in general, substitute something of the same grammatical category as ‘goodness’ and get a similar meaning. the only one’s which work are ‘God’s’ ‘Pete’s’ ‘Christ’s’ things like that. I can’t say “John is in jail for Pam’s sake” and mean anything like what I mean when I say “John is in jail for God’s/Pete’s/Christ’s/goodness sake”. so i don’t think the intrinsic value reading is correct. its an idiomatic expression.

  • Oops, I should have known better than to try to make this kind of point where a language person might read it. Maybe I just have little patience for idiomatic language the meaning of which is opaque and not obviously related to its constitutive words.

    What could the meaning of “for goodness/christ/pete’s sake” be, anyway? I can’t put my finger on it…

  • And I suppose I should mention that, any evidence from the idiom aside, the song still clearly promotes rewarding children’s behavior with gifts, which I think is a bad practice for a number of reasons. But you didn’t take issue with that, so I don’t really need to defend it.

  • yeah true it does promote that which was the major point you were making.

    roughly i think it expresses surprise, annoyance, surprise something like that.

    also i feel like i’ve heard a new one recently. “for fuck’s sake” which is really weird.

  • errr ones

  • Reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes on why you should believe in Santa: awesome example of Pascal’s Wager

  • That comic sums up most people’s religious beliefs.

  • Phil Parr wrote:

    If one cannot find, within him or herself, the means to be good…being good for goodness sake will do just fine…

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