The question is about the context attached (or rather not attached) to the term "generosity"/"generous" (defined in Merriam-Webster as "liberal in giving").

The question is, is there a widely/universally understood context of "giving of your own resources" (and NOT someone else's) when using the term?

Please note that I am asking for an answer that can be supported by an official/scholarly reference, not merely an opinion. E.g. a dictionary definition precise enough to include/exclude such contexts; or a scholarly article discussing the topic.

Due to the fact that there are a lot of different meanings to the word "generous", I will clarify specifically the ones I mean/don't mean:

  • This Q IS about the use of the term "generous"/"generosity" pertaining to a personal quality of an individual's character; specifically used as an opposite of "being greedy"

  • This Q is NOT about the archaic "nobility"/"class-status" meaning of the word.

  • This Q is NOT about the use of "generous" as indication of size (as in "generous slice of the cake"/"generous amount of help").

  • This Q is specifically about the use specifically of the word "generous", not some other positive quality. E.g. we are NOT discussing whether you are good/nice/well-meaning when wishing to give other people from resources that are not yours. Only whether or not you can be called a generous person based on such.

Here is a very specific example to illustrate the question precisely:

Situation 1: You go to a restaurant; you pay for dinner and add extra $50 tip to the waiter on top of the customary 15% tip, despite the fact that the service/dinner was quite ordinary, not deserving of extra tip on merits. In this case, you can obviously be said to be generous to the waiter; or committing an act of generosity (in your attitude, NOT the large amount).

Situation 2: You go to a restaurant for a dinner event paid for by the company you work for (therefore, ultimately, paid for by the company owners - who are NOT you and are not present). It is now the time to decide how much of a tip to give to the waiter.

QUESTION: Would advocating for an extra $50 tip (on top of the customary 15%, despite the fact that the service/dinner was quite ordinary, not deserving of extra tip on merits) still be considered an act of generosity (as opposed to general good will), even though that extra $50 would be paid for by people other than you and will have no measurable financial impact to yourself?

  1. I'm not asking for moral dimension of this - merely of whether in this specific second scenario the word generosity is a valid term to use to describe your personal attitude about extra $50.

  2. I am not asking about whether the extra $50 tip can be called generous - I am asking about whether your behavior in giving such a tip can be called generosity.

  • NOTE: please do not vote to close this question as a duplicate of my earlier question #29108 - I have already flagged that previous poorly worded question for moderators to be deleted (e.g. that one is the one that is a duplicate).
    – DVK
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 4:42

3 Answers 3


The question is, is there a widely/universally understood context of "giving of your own resources" (and not someone else's) when using the term?

By looking up the definition, we find out that:

From the World English Dictionary:

— adj 1. willing and liberal in giving away one's money, time, etc; munificent

Note that it is giving away one's possessions.

In order to be generous, you have to give away that which belongs to you, so the example of tipping extra when the company is paying doesn't mean the man is generous, just lavish.

Also defined by the MacMillan dictionary,

  • is there some official-ish reference (dictionary or otherwise scholarly material) that explicitly excludes the context of other people's resources? The answer is great as it is even without such, so a well deserved +1 and a thank you.
    – DVK
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 4:52
  • I hope that helps.
    – Thursagen
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 5:17

If somebody is being free with the resources of others, calling them "generous" is sarcasm.

  • While I personally happen to agree, I was looking for an answer supported by some sort of official/scholarly evidence. Sorry for not stating that outright in the question
    – DVK
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 4:54

If I understand you correctly, you're asking if someone, e.g., by virtue of an action of giving an extra tip to a waiter in particular circumstance, regardless of the origin of the tip, could be described as generous. In other words, whether generosity as a concept can be understood simply as something like, "giving, though undeserved". One does often find expressions like, Such-and-such group is generous with other people's money, and the like, which means such use is clearly not impossible. As far as scholarly works, my apologies; I'm at a loss.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.