What is the Meaning of the word ‘Good’?

By | December 14, 2018

[December 14, 2018]  I watched in amazement as a sitting U.S. president attempted to lie craftily.  Bill Clinton, charismatic and good-old-boy, was trying hard to justify why he wasn’t lying when he said: “There is nothing going on between us [referring to sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky].” Before a federal grand jury, he famously said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.1

I’m always working hard not to be misunderstood.  However, we all use words with multiple meanings that depend upon several factors; like the tone of voice, setting, and placement in a sentence.  One word I use often is the word “good” and, of course, I do my best to ensure precision in when I say it.  Like I try to do, it is important that all leaders must have absolute clarity in their words and deeds.2

When I use the word “good,” it means to be both effective and moral.  These two elements are required to gain an understanding of what I write and say.  It would, for example, be incorrect for me to say that Adolf Hitler was a ‘good’ leader.  His behavior would meet only one criterion; him being successful in what he wanted to achieve but horrific from a moral standpoint.

There are those who will call Hitler a good leader because he was able to accomplish so much for post World War I Germany.  I believe they are speaking only from describing him as an ‘effective’ leader and are excluding the idea that he was ‘moral.’  Not knowing which meaning is where confusing often sneaks in and causes angst.

Many organizations use a technique called terms of reference (TOR) to highlight the meaning of key concepts and terms.  A detailed TOR example can be read as part of the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection EIA Technical Review Guide and is here for reference (see PDF link here).  Examples are a productive way of helping to clarify difficult, complex, or confusing ideas.  More should be done socially to steer clear of easily avoidable problems.

The story behind president Bill Clinton’s dishonesty taught me several valuable lessons; most of which are rather obvious; like don’t lie.  It also taught me that the meaning of words is important.  Honesty and clarity are the best courses of action any senior leader can take to earn the respect of those who follow.


  1. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/1998/09/bill-clinton-and-the-meaning-of-is.html
  2. Respect is another word often misunderstood. I wrote about that a year ago and explained that its meaning could mean two completely different things (see link here).  Respect is one concept that can truly get us into trouble quickly if we are not aware of the implications of respect and how it differs across cultures.
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “What is the Meaning of the word ‘Good’?

  1. Wilson Cox

    Yes Lynn, words do have meaning even if the local college socialists think that if they disagree with you, you have assalted them. Snowflakes?

  2. Lynn Pitts


    You’d better be good
    You’d better not cry
    You don’t get what you should
    I’m telling you why
    Santa Claus ain’t coming to town

    The governments got
    No gold Apple tree
    It gets all of its pot
    From you and from me
    Santa Clause ain’t coming to town

    Politicians in glee
    Like to give things away
    But for everything free
    Someone else has to pay
    Santa Clause ain’t coming to town

    I know you feel entitled
    To have everything you need
    Provided by a welfare state
    That the government decreed

    You’d better not claim
    More entitlements due
    You’d better see plain
    I’m telling you true
    Santa Clause ain’t coming to town

    So it’s time that you’ve grown
    You better postpone
    That next spending spree
    Santa Clause ain’t coming to town

    And it’s time that you knew
    Though it may cause you strife
    Father Christmas not true
    No one owes you a life
    Santa Clause ain’t coming to town

    You think that it’s unfair that
    Someone else has more than you
    And a proxy act of plunder
    Will purloin what you feel due

    But you‘d better not whine
    You’d better not pout
    That you want to some of mine
    In another handout

    And there is no big list
    Of goodies for you
    Better try and exist
    On what you yourself do
    Sant Claus ain’t coming to town

    1. Greg Heyman

      Too funny. Snowflake socialists are everywhere so you better watch out! 🙂

  3. Eric Coda

    Good article today, Gen. Satterfield. Loved the story too.

  4. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Today is Football Friday, yeah! But what does ‘football’ mean. Think I’m kidding? The USA is the only country I know of (maybe Canada) that calls football the game also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. As opposed to football that Americans call ‘soccer.’ Words do have various meanings.

  5. The Kid 1945

    TGIF. Thank god it’s Friday or is it “Thank goofy it’s Fabulous” … ha ha ha ha

    1. Joe the Aussie

      ?? 🙂 Not being an American, I’m a little confused here.

  6. Roger Yellowmule

    If someone in a Northern state like Maine uses the verb “fix,” they’re probably referring to repairing or refurbishing something. If someone in the South uses the verb “fix,” however, they are signaling that they are about to do something. For instance, a Southerner might say something like “I’m fixin’ to head to the store” to indicate that they’re getting ready to leave the house.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Good example for “fix” just like the word “good” from Gen. Satterfield.

  7. Janna Faulkner

    I remember Pres Clinton lying to the public on tv also. Your point about him saying it depends on the definition of the word ‘is” was the low point in his presidency. Should we be worrying about him having sex with an intern? Hmmmm. Yes.

    1. Lady Hawk

      According to the #metoo Movement, Bill Clinton should be fired (oh, he can’t be since he doesn’t have a job) or shamed (oh, he can’t because he’s a liberal) or pushed aside politically (oh, he can’t because he’s a democrat). Snark off.

    2. Anita

      It’s ladies day to bash Bill Clinton, our favorite president of all times (except maybe Obama).

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