Italian word of the day: 'Buonismo'

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Italian word of the day: 'Buonismo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

There's not much good to say about this word.


Have you ever been accused of being a buonista?

It may come from the word buono, but that doesn't mean it's a compliment. 

buonista is a do-gooder or goody-two-shoes, whose actions can be characterised as buonismo - something like 'do-gooding' or 'do-good-ism'.

Ne ho abbastanza di questi buonisti.
I've had enough of these do-gooders.

Giovanni è un buono, non un buonista.
Giovanni's a good man, not a goody two shoes.

Basta con questo buonismo.
Enough of this do-gooder-ism.

(Note that buonista in the singular always ends in an 'a' even if it's describing a man).

goody two shoes GIF by Chelsea Handler

The word's invention is often credited to a Professor Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, though it apparently was already in use in literary criticism at least a decade before.

Nonetheless, it does seem to have been Galli Della Loggia who brought the term into today's political and journalistic discourse via multiple editorials he penned for the Corriere della Sera newspaper in 1995 concerning the arrival of migrants in Italy.

"Chi non vede gli immigrati. La solidarietà “buonista” del centrosinistra" ('Those who don't see immigrants. The 'do-gooder' solidarity of the centre-left') was a line that reportedly appeared in one of the pieces (none of which can currently be found in Corriere's online archives).

From that point on, and with increasing frequency from around 2015 onwards as the migrant crisis began to accelerate, the term was used by hard-line nativists to deride all those who opposed anti-immigration policies.

It's essentially the Italian equivalent of 'social justice warrior' or (if you're from an earlier generation) 'bleeding heart liberal'.


In one particularly ghoulish example, the right-wing newspaper Il Giornale infamously reported on two mass drownings of migrants in the Mediterranean in 2013 and 2015 respectively as "Trecento morti di buonismo"  and "Settecento morti di buonismo" ("Three hundred/Seven hundred dead of do-gooder-ism").

The word is a particular favourite of far-right League party leader and former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who in the immediate aftermath of the Bataclan Paris attacks tweeted "Buonisti = complici #Parigi" ("Do-gooders = complicit #Paris).

Things reached such a fever pitch in 2017 that the anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano wrote an article for the Repubblica newspaper in which he issued a (presumably rhetorical) call for the word to be abolished altogether.

If buonista is ever used against you as an insult, there's no need to take it too much to heart - it's one of those words that tends to say more about the person using it than it does anyone else.

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