The Name „Gutmensch“
In the German-speaking world, Gutmensch is also a surname, which causes a problem for some families. Interestingly, this name often originates from what is now the Czech Republic. For example, on 22 August 1896 Mr Josef Gutmensch from Mährisch-Neustadt came 6th at the royal shooting tournament in Littau. In 1897 the hairdresser August Gutmensch patented a kind of hair curler. Rosin & Gutmensch's general store at Favoritenstraße 68 in Vienna's 4th district had to file for bankruptcy in 1915. And in May 1916 Karl Gutmensch, a captain in the Austro-Hungarian army, was awarded the Military Cross of Merit for bravery in the face of the enemy. Officer Gutmensch received the very highest military medal two years later, shortly before dying a hero's death. To loosely quote the good soldier Švejk, the patron saint of all subversives: 'They killed Gutmensch!' 'Which Gutmensch? I know two. I'm not sorry about either of them.'
The Bogomils were the first religious social revolutionary movement in Europe.
Some surname researchers believe 'Gutmensch' is derived from Saint Homobonus, the patron saint of tailors. Others claim that it comes from the French word bonhommes, the name once given to followers of the Cathar or Albigensian heretical movements in the Middle Ages. They called themselves 'true Christians' and 'God-lovers', a literal translation of the South Slavic bogomil. These 'servants of the devil' originated in today's Bulgaria and were called 'cat-kissers', zoophiles, which is why the colloquial English verb 'to bugger', derived from the French bougrir, etymologically means 'to make love like a Bulgarian'.
Now we have found the roots of the do-gooder. The Bogomils were the first religious social revolutionary movement in Europe.
In the words of a contemporary Orthodox priest: 'They teach their own people not to obey their lords, they revile the wealthy, hate the Tsar, ridicule the elders, condemn the boyars (the military aristocracy), regard as vile in the sight of God those who serve the Tsar, and forbid every servant to work for his master.' For God's sake. People who not only imagined a free and dignified life on earth, but actually wanted to put it into practice? Do-gooders. Ugh!
Bosnia espoused Bogomilism from 1199 onwards and it continued for two centuries, which must be enough to prove that my colleague the Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan is also a covert do-gooder.
And for the sake of completeness: the term bonhomme generally means a 'gentleman', so you might think it isn't used in mockery and you can relax in an irony-free zone – until you discover that it is also used as a synonym for fool. Things that seem blackand-white can be deceptive. In the case of Gutmenschen, semantics has been upended so now it means the opposite. That's why it's not possible to talk of a Schlechtmensch (do-badder) but only a Nichtgutmensch (non-do-gooder). I know, it's confusing. But the confusion is quite deliberate in this context, and not only in German. In Bosnian, the highest expression of enthusiasm is mrak, which translates literally as 'darkness'. And in the Krio language of West Africa, the affix bad bad wan serves to emphasise qualification. So Di man fayn bad bad wan wan – for those who don't speak Krio – means 'The man good bad bad', while Di polis korupt bad bad wan means 'the police corrupt bad bad'.