English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Consider the case where a professor is erasing a board and one of the teaching assistant tries to help him by erasing part of the board.

Unfortunately, while trying to pick up the eraser, the teaching assistant bumps into the professor and they both drop their erasers.

An outside observer sees this and says the TA is ______, rather than helping.

The missing word or phrase would capture the good intentions but also express the fact that the intended help had the opposite of the intended effect.

In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase 帮倒忙 comes to mind, but the Google translation "disservice" does not quite capture it.

share|improve this question
9  
Hindering. Or, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions (though, on reflection, I imagine that speaks more to un-acted-upon intentions, rather than intentions gone awry). – Dan Bron Mar 2 at 12:47
    
Did you try to find example sentences with the word disservice? – Rathony Mar 2 at 12:50
    
It’s easier to find nouns for this than verbs, so I’ll just post this as a comment. English has imported a couple of terms from Yiddish that may be relevant here: schemiel and schlemazel. You seem to be looking for the schemiel. One is the giver and one the receiver of this clumsy bungling The difference is that the schlemiel is the inept would-be benefactor who’s trying to be nice and helpful and serve somebody a nice bowl of chicken soup, while the schlemazel is that somebody whom he has just spilled the soup on. – tchrist Mar 2 at 12:53
    
You might say that the TA is "bumbling" or "ham-handed", but those are both adjectives rather than verbs, so they don't fit in the blank. Maybe "bungling"? – Doug Warren Mar 2 at 14:33
5  
I know this doesn't help much but in Russian there's same phrase. Literally translation would be more of 'the help of a bear'. The thought being that the intent to help is there but you end up breaking something or messing something up. I have not heard of a phrase as such in English language as of yet. ("Doing more harm than good" that's the top answer I feel is simply a technical description of it rather than the phrase) – StanM Mar 2 at 19:16

15 Answers 15

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Counterproductive. The TA is being counterproductive.

His uncontrollable anger is very counterproductive to his attempt at saving his marriage.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/counterproductive

share|improve this answer

The TA is doing/causing more harm than good.

to be damaging rather than helpful

Usage notes: usually said about things that are intended to be helpful but do not have a good result

[The Free Dictionary]

share|improve this answer
4  
I think this is the most common one. +1 – Shevliaskovic Mar 2 at 13:59
1  
Agreed; optionally with the addition of a remark about why the TA's actions are being described this way, e.g. The TA was well-intentioned but clumsy, doing more harm than good. – Jason C Mar 3 at 20:27

Hindering. "You're hindering rather than helping!" is something my grandmother used to say to me when I was a child trying to assist in the kitchen. It means, according to Merriam-Webster,

to make slow or difficult the progress of

share|improve this answer
20  
I don't think "hindering" really applies unto itself. It's only the full phrase "hindering rather than helping" that meets the intention. – Brad Mar 2 at 16:26
4  
Your answer tempts me to paraphrase the old “friends/enemies” saying: “With help like that, who needs hindrance/s”! +1 – Papa Poule Mar 2 at 16:53
    
I've heard "harming", not "hindering". – OldBunny2800 Mar 2 at 22:47
    
Try "inadvertently hindering" – user1833028 Mar 3 at 18:36
    
You would say this, but the other one captures good intentions better. However, no one under 60 says the other one. – JFA Mar 3 at 19:02

Well-intentioned probably fits the bill. It only literally means the first part of your definition - "intending to help" - but it's generally only used when you want to point out the discrepancy between what is intended and what the actual results are. A headline that began "Well-intentioned new housing policy" is much more likely to end with "makes things worse" than "is a brilliant success".

share|improve this answer

Consider,

do someone more of a disservice than help

-and-

Road to hell is paved with good intentions

Prov. People often mean well but do bad things. (Can be a strong rebuke, implying that the person you are addressing did something bad and his or her good intentions do not matter.) Jane: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings; I only wanted to help you. Jane: Oh, yeah? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

Using the phrase in your example,

A professor is erasing a board and one of the teaching assistant tries to help him by erasing part of the board.

Unfortunately, while trying to pick up the eraser, the teaching assistant bumps into the professor and they both drop their erasers.

An outside observer sees this and says: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions..."

share|improve this answer
3  
As in, "Teaching Assistant's road to hell is paved with good intentions" ? – BiscuitBoy Mar 2 at 12:59

A related phrase might be:

Too many cooks spoil the broth/soup.

In this case, the specific blame isn't on any one individual "cook", but rather that too many people performing a task actually hinder eachother rather than help.

share|improve this answer
    
purely FTR i guess an older version of that is "too many cooks spoil the broth". I haven't heard anyone say "...soup" but I guess times change! – Joe Blow Mar 5 at 15:34
    
@JoeBlow - Based on nGrams, "soup" appears to be somewhat more common in American English than British, though "broth" is definitely more common in both. I think I learned it as "soup" because when they teach it to children, kids (at least in the US) are more likely to know what "soup" is than "broth". – Darrel Hoffman Mar 6 at 15:11

The best I've been able to come up with is the cure is worse than the disease.

Related phrases:

share|improve this answer

Inadvertently harmful.

Inadvertent means unintentional. It's close to what you want.

share|improve this answer

You could borrow a term from Dov Waisman’s title and discussion of the fairness of granting tort immunity to “[good but somewhat] clumsy Samaritans.”
(from ‘Negligence, Responsibility, and the Clumsy Samaritan: Is there a Fairness Rationale for the Good Samaritan Immunity?’ at ‘Private Law Theory’)

That TA is [what I'd call] a clumsy Samaritan.

share|improve this answer

There is a word like this in Swedish and some other European languages, and the Wiktionary entry has some insight into how to translate it:

  • A disservice
  • A mistaken kindness
  • A misguided helpfulness

To make it fit into your sentence you could say, for example, "doing a disservice" or "what the TA is doing is a mistaken kindness".

share|improve this answer

I'll go ahead and post this as an answer, even though I have no supporting documentation other than my own experience:

In my part of the world, this is known as hepping, as in "helping" pronounced in a babyish voice.

"Mommy, I'm hepping," said the child as she methodically poured the macaroni all over the kitchen floor.

Will you stop hepping? I'm already running late.

share|improve this answer
    
Nice word! What part of the world is that, southern California or eastern Pennsylvania? – Law29 Mar 6 at 11:00
    
hepping brings to mind the word hapless which I think is a better match than merely clumsy. – Law29 Mar 6 at 11:05
    
@Law29, well, Pennsylvania, but I believe it's actually current with a fairly large subset of the historical recreation group I'm a member of, so there are people all over the world who have had potential exposure to this usage. (Because heralds are silly people. Also fencers.) – Marthaª Mar 6 at 17:51

In your specific example I would actually say:

An outside observer sees this and says the TA is clumsy.

The reason is because the TA's course of action actually was, presumably, a good one. It's not the case that attempting to help erase the board is a bad idea. What actually happened was that the TA executed a good idea poorly in the physical sense: The TA failed to maintain awareness of what the professor was doing and collided with him.

What you are focusing on dictates the language here. If you are trying to make a case against helping to erase the board, you would focus on the TA's underlying motives and general consequences (misguided, harmful, etc.) - something that would affect all TA's attempting the same thing. If you are trying to make a case that this particular TA has personal problems executing an otherwise helpful plan, you would focus on this specific TA's actions (clumsy, uncoordinated, distracted, etc.)

share|improve this answer
  1. If a well-intentioned person causes havoc wherever they pass, they are said to be like a bull in a china shop. In the OP's scenario the teacher's assistant is clearly a bumbling sort of person

... while trying to pick up the eraser, the teaching assistant bumps into the professor and they both drop their erasers. The TA was as awkward as a bull in a china shop.

  1. For a stronger negative slant, the following idiom is used to convey the idea that someone or something is a crippling encumbrance. Often but not exclusively used as a derogatory term for a wife.

ball and chain
A burden and restraint, as in Karen regarded her job as a ball and chain, but she needed the money. The term, dating from the early 1800s, alludes to chaining a heavy iron ball to a prisoner's leg. Later it was transferred to other kinds of restraining burden

  • The TA was more like a ball and chain than a help
share|improve this answer

Although this is not describing the TA, you can say that his plan backfired, which means that his plan had the opposite effect of what was intended. He was trying to help, but instead caused a mess.

share|improve this answer

This calls for an adjective: Dangerously helpful! Annoyingly helpful!

share|improve this answer
2  
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – choster Mar 2 at 22:04
    
Please give a full explanation for you answer so people don't have to go anywhere else to understand what you mean. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 4 at 11:46

protected by Community Mar 3 at 3:25

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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