Confusion as to the real nature of commercial goodwill is well-entrenched in the literature, as evidenced by accountants' attention to valuation formulae rather than the underlying assets. The paper traces conceptual clarification of business goodwill via early writers on accounting, legal opinion and etymology. These three perspectives, together with a chronology of 91 selective definitions, reveal the shift in thinking over the past century. Goodwill, from being thought of as a set of inducements which attract persistent patronage, has become submerged by methods of valuation based upon superior earning power concepts and by the accounting notion of a residuum.

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