The word "Gutmensch" consists of
- gut = good
- Mensch = human
Sounds like a compliment but actually the word is very insulting.
It describes someone who (for example)
- is not able to take criticism, since their cause is always just
- considers objective arguments as inconsiderate and hurtful
- instinctively tries to control any dispute and calm the situation
- suffers ostentatively at the slightest indignation
- scorns at dark humour
The list is not exhaustive, I'm just trying to convey the right frame of mind.
There is this sense of entitlement and an attitude like that of a teacher. If you argue with them, they will not listen but try to show you the error of your ways. If they are wrong, they will try to end the discussion with "it's not really that important, isn't it?".
A "Gutmensch" is not a bad person, they are perfectly normal people and can be found in any radio conversation and at most family meetings. But there is some trace of malice, some wickedness, or some almost undetectable twist of mind. This is the important part.
Let's say you dine with an activist of Greenpeace and the evening is completely filled with the fight against pollution. This person is definitely not a "Gutmensch", since he is genuinely concerned.
Or you invite a vegetarian who insists on not eating meat. Not a "Gutmensch". The person next to the vegetarian who starts the discussion about eating meat and won't accept any conclusion except "we should all stop eating meat", that's a "Gutmensch".
How would you translate this word (one of my favourites) to English ?
Yes, I've tried to look up the word on my own. The results were:
- goody two-shoes
- starry eyed idealist
good mind, this last one was actually marked as "abfällig" (derogatory)
None of those words felt like they were spot-on. They don't feel right, because of various reasons, I'm trying to give my personal impression of each of those words:
- do-gooder : very plain, direct translation. I don't think I heard this before. Seems rather constructed to me.
- goody two-shoes : I definitely didn't hear this before
- starry eyed idealist : someone who is blinded by his ideals. The greenpeace activist from my example would probably be a starry eyed idealist. But that's not necessarily bad.
- good mind : the dictionary says this is derogatory. But it seems rather harmless to me.
Would you say "He is such a good mind" about one of your friends ? Sarcastically, I mean ? Seems like a harmless joke, only in a specific context I would consider this insulting. If you called one of your friends "Gutmensch", he would be severely injured.
I didn't post those results, since I didn't want to spoil the question. Usually if someone asks me "do you think X is an appropriate translation for ...", all I can think of is X. And I wanted to see if those terms come up on their own.