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I'm wondering what word or phrase could be used for the counter examples of 'Midas touch' effect.

The Midas touch, or the gift of profiting from whatever one undertakes, is named for a legendary king of Phrygia. Midas was granted the power to transmute whatever he touched into gold. http://www.mythweb.com/today/today04.html

For example: "Jack has the Midas touch but is still penniless because Sally is/has ?????"

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I always thought it should be "The merde-is touch" :-) –  T.E.D. Apr 18 '12 at 16:25
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Absolutely. Sally has a credit card –  user20287 Apr 18 '12 at 21:03
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This reminds me of the story of Calamity Jane. Was there any similar phrase used? Legends say that while she was a kind person, a lot of people who came in contact with her suffered ill fates. –  vsz Apr 19 '12 at 6:07
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@vsz If you'll add Calamity Jane as an answer, I'll upvote it. –  user14070 Apr 19 '12 at 12:54
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"Someone stole all my wife's credit cards. But I haven't bothered to report it. So far the thief is spending less than my wife did." -- Rodney Dangerfield (from memory, not exact qutoe) –  Jay Apr 19 '12 at 18:02

17 Answers 17

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I heard "everything he touches turns into shit" in a movie, can't remember which one though.

Search results include "The Murphy's touch" when searching for this quote.

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"I'm like King Midas in reverse, here. Everything I touch turns to shit." -- Tony Soprano –  Anthony Apr 19 '12 at 8:20

Perhaps reverse alchemy, the ability to turn gold into lead.

While it does not seem to turn up in standard reference works, it appears somewhat frequently in literature (as this ngram shows), with a range of referents for the high value to low value swap:

  • gold of Athens to Roman dross
  • gold into caca
  • intelligence into brutality
  • aural gold into academic dross

I recall once seeing the phrase reverse philosopher's stone to refer to this pattern, but I cannot locate the source.

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The "reverse Midas touch" is popularly used and I think, unfortunately, comes the closest to what you're looking for. The "kiss of death" doesn't really have any financial connotations and refers to an action rather than a personal quality - the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "a seemingly kind or well-intentioned action, look, association, etc., which brings disastrous consequences."

Search the archives of any news publication (like the NY Times) to see published instances of "reverse Midas touch."

Or search google for literary references https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=reverse+Midas+touch&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Creverse%20Midas%20touch%3B%2Cc0

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King Midas in Reverse was a moderately successful hit for the Hollies. –  Firstrock Apr 18 '12 at 22:38

The oldest and plainest word to describe this situation is "curse". You can plainly say that "Sally is a curse" and I think that most English speakers would understand.

Being a geek who like to make cultural references, both obvious and obscure, I prefer the following:

When everything someone touches breaks or becomes ruined it is called the Urkel Effect. You can say that "Sally has the Urkel Effect" or you could even say that "Sally is an Urkel".

For those unfamiliar with the character, he is from a 1990's American sitcom called "Family Matters". The character is dorky and nerdy, and though extremely intelligent, everything he is involved in that is not one of his science experiments is inevitably ruined. After destroying something and receiving evil glares from those around him he would often say "Did I do that?"

Tom Au made the next best thing that I think will mean more to more people. "Butterfingers" has long been a phrase to imply that a simple mishandling can ruin the whole thing. It likely started with sports (likely baseball) where a player could have easily caught the ball, but dropped it instead. He is said to have butterfingers. But it is that one simply mistake that could cost the team the win. In other applications, people with "butterfingers" are usually not allowed to move or lift breakable things, work on delicate projects that require a steady hand, etc.

The issue with butterfingers is that it cannot easily apply to non-physical tasks. You would likely not say that Sally as financially ruined Jack because she has butterfingers. You would say, however, that Jack doesn't have any nice things because Sally has butterfingers.

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The term I would use is butterfingers. Instead of everything one touches turning "golden," it slips through their fingers and is ruined, or at least useless.

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She is called an Iron leg in Tollywood.

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What is interesting to me is that the idiom itself "Midas touch" has a positive connotation. But the whole point of the orignal myth is that it ends up being a curse. So really, wouldn't a reverse midas touch be something where at first it looks like it's ruined, but in the end the event/item in question is better off than expected?

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Reminds me of semantics and Through the Looking Glass: 'When I use a word, ... it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.' Strictly speaking, the opposite might be something that was bestowed upon you that you didn't wish for, that caused you to be able to constantly eat your fill and become supremely healthy. –  jabolotai Apr 19 '12 at 11:39
    
This is why I think @vsz's Calamity Jane works so well. It appears to be a curse on Jane, but it increases her fame, and thereby her fortune, though then it doesn't necessarily fit the context of the sentence in question... –  user14070 Apr 19 '12 at 12:56

"Jack has the Midas touch but is still penniless because Sally has black fingers/a black thumb."

The meaning is related to gardening where if you have "green fingers" or "a green thumb", you are good at growing plants, but if they are black it means you excel at killing your plants.

Another cruder example is:

"Jack has the Midas touch but is still penniless because Sally has dick fingers."

... because everything Sally touches, she fucks (i.e. breaks).

(Apologies, I don't know how to tag this answer as containing [offensive-language].)

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I've never actually heard it, but I think it's about time "Typhoid Mary" were put to more metaphorical use.

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It's called the tainted touch -- everything that she/he touched becomes "tainted" and became undesirable (which is reverse-Midas). There is even a movie by that name.

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"Because Sally fritters away all his hard earned pennies..." I joke :) I have heard the phrase "the Sadim touch" used as it literally reverses "Midas"

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Everything you touch turns to dlog. –  msh210 Apr 18 '12 at 22:40

Jack has the Midas touch but is still penniless because Sally can't catch a break.

It's not as extreme as some of the other suggestions, but catch a break is defined idiomatically as being able to get a moment of fortune or luck in difficult times. To my ears, those two idioms seem well-balanced, particularly when talking about fortune and investing.

For the record, I also like Monica's proposed "kiss of death"
as a metaphorical complement to "Midas touch".

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The problem with evil eye is it implies malicious intent. The problem with jinx is it often implies misfortune for the jinxed person, rather than for those around him. If someone unintentionally brings bad luck to others...

he's a Jonah - a person believed to bring bad luck to those around him; a jinx

It's from the Old Testament Hebrew prophet who, having been thrown overboard from a ship in which he was fleeing from God, was swallowed by a great fish and vomited onto dry land.

From the other sailors' point of view, having Jonah aboard obviously wasn't a good thing. I don't know if the Bible records what happened to the rest of the crew on the original occasion, but sailors in general have long used "a Jonah" to mean a person (either a sailor or a passenger) whose presence on board brings bad luck and endangers the ship. From which it's passed into common parlance to mean anyone who brings bad luck to any enterprise.

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That is probably closest to the meaning the OP is looking for, but I don't think I've ever heard this in common usage, and anyone not familiar with the story will be confused. Even I found it confusing initially because bringing bad luck to those around him was not the main point of the story of Jonah. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 18 '12 at 18:17
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I really like this answer as it mirrors "Midas" nicely. Midas was ultimately brought to ruin by his "gift" but no one thinks about this when using this phrase. Similarly, no one thinks about the fact that Jonah ultimately did what God asked and ended up saving a whole city –  Kevin Apr 18 '12 at 18:18
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I agree with @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner. If I heard "he's a Jonah" or "he's got the Jonah touch" without the context of this question, I'd be thinking of fish bellies, not the turbulence. (If I chose to puzzle it out I'd probably get it, but we don't want people to have to puzzle out idioms most of the time.) This would be a nice usage to spread, though! –  Monica Cellio Apr 18 '12 at 18:46
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@Frustrated,Monica: I'm a bit surprised, since I know both you guys are "competent speakers" in general. Truth to tell, if I ever did know about Jonah being swallowed up & vomited out by the whale (and thus surviving), I'd long forgotten it until I did the checking here. But "He's a [right] Jonah!" seems commonplace to me, from high-tech office staff to building site workers. Perhaps it's another of those UK/US diferences. But I will say "He's got the Jonah touch" sounds weird to me - I only know it in the form I've set out. –  FumbleFingers Apr 18 '12 at 21:37
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@FumbleFingers: Yes, it might be regional. I have never heard the term used in Canadaian/US offices (IT and financial industries). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 18 '12 at 21:38

Evil Eye is the closest I can think of.

Jack has the Midas touch but still penniless because Sally has the evil eye.

Albatross can be used figuratively to mean the same thing. (Ref: Coleridge's poem)

Jack has the Midas touch but still penniless because Sally is an albatross around his neck.

Have to say the second is odd (a touch too idiomatic) and I do not think the usage will be understood easily.

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The difference is that Evil Eye implies malicious intent by Sally, which I don't think is implied when using Albatross (around his neck). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 18 '12 at 16:01
    
Sally cast the evil eye does not mean Sally is malicious. It simply means she (or her sight) has the power to cause harm or bad luck. It is not she who causes the harm :) –  Bravo Apr 18 '12 at 16:16
    
@Shyam: the evil eye tends to imply that Sally is an outsider, and not a partner in the failed venture. As an albatross around his neck, she's a partner. –  Ken Bloom Apr 19 '12 at 3:16

Sally's presence/involvement is the kiss of death.

Jay's "born loser" is close but I think of that as mostly bringing ruin to the loser himself, while you seem to be looking for a term for someone who causes ruin to others.

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One problem with "the kiss of death" is its origin in the biblical myth of Judas, and consequent connotations of intentional betrayal. But it's interesting to see how this usage has eclipsed "touch of death" over the last half-century –  FumbleFingers Apr 18 '12 at 17:39
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@FumbleFingers, yeah, I think the expression has taken on a life of its own and is disconnected from its origin for many people. –  Monica Cellio Apr 18 '12 at 18:44
    
@FumbleFingers I have to agree with Monica's comment - I always thought the term originated with film noir. I never new it related to anything biblical. –  Izkata Apr 18 '12 at 19:13
    
+1 kiss of death is perfect! –  Mike Brown Apr 19 '12 at 12:27
    
Hmm, but I don't think I've ever heard someone say, "Sally has the kiss of death", meaning she brings ruin on everyone. People say that an event was the kiss of death, like, "This new tax will be the kiss of death for our company." I guess you could say, "Sally's involvement was the kiss of death for ..." as Monica begings the post, but you wouldn't say that Sally is or has the kiss of death. If that meets the OP's requirement, then great, maybe I'm just nitpicking saying that it isn't really parallel to "Midas touch". –  Jay Apr 19 '12 at 14:24

"Sally has the Madoff touch."

[Although I object to the gendered allocation of spendthrift qualities to Sally and the assumption that Jack brings home the gold that Sally turns red with debt...]

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This made me laugh, but it does hinge on whether Sally is a fraud or just unlucky/incompetent. –  Monica Cellio Apr 18 '12 at 16:22
    
Cute, but odds are that within a few years no one will remember poor Bernie Madoff, and this reference will just be confusing. –  Jay Apr 19 '12 at 14:35
    
RE the "gendered allocation": He didn't say that all women are spendthrifts or whatever Sally's problem is, just this one particular woman. If I say, "Carl loses his temper easily", do you take that as a criticism of all men? All Norwegians? ("Carl" being a Norwegian name.) Or simply of Carl? –  Jay Apr 19 '12 at 14:43

The extreme would be "is a born loser". People sometimes say that someone "is jinxed" meaning everything they try seems to fail.

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+1 for "is jinxed" –  Ken Bloom Apr 19 '12 at 3:20

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