Specifically I'm wondering if there's a word that describes the phenomenon where some party takes some action to remedy a situation and the result of that action makes the original situation worse.

Recent examples that made me think about this:

  • The NFL suspended a journalist for editorializing a podcast in a way against the party line - the suspension brought the podcast into much more popular light and greatly increased public sympathy for the journalist.

  • On Sunday, the protests in Hong Kong were apparently quite civilized, but the police crackdown/pepper spray movement dramatically increased public support for the protestors and the protests have only swelled in size & support (to my understanding).

I'm wondering if there is a very succinct word for this phenomenon that has so far eluded me. I'm not even sure shooting yourself in the foot is a good saying to describe it.

  • 3
    What does 'editorializing' mean? Does it mean 'editing'?
    – WS2
    Oct 1, 2014 at 18:24
  • 6
    'Shooting oneself in the foot' is a metaphor which is consistently misunderstood and used incorrectly. The practice dates from the First World War when soldiers on both sides were known to have deliberately given themselves a non-fatal wound (e.g. shooting themselves in the foot) as a way of getting repatriated from the front, where they faced almost certain death.
    – WS2
    Oct 1, 2014 at 18:27
  • 6
    Self-foot-shooter. Oct 1, 2014 at 19:06
  • 11
    @WS2: The way it is consistently used and understood is the current sense, the original sense is of little importance.
    – njzk2
    Oct 1, 2014 at 21:16
  • 5
    Your first scenario is an example of the Streisand Effect (attempts to censor information can result in wider distribution of the information) named after Barbra Streisand:- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect Oct 2, 2014 at 9:48

8 Answers 8


The term backfire means

(Of a plan or action) rebound adversely on the originator; have the opposite effect to what was intended: overzealous publicity backfired on her

[Oxford Dictionary Online]

Similarly boomerang

(Of a plan or action) return to the originator, often with negative consequences: misleading consumers about quality will eventually boomerang on a carmaker

[Oxford Dictionary Online]

And blowback

(chiefly US) The unintended adverse results of a political action or situation: this is the blowback from all those aggressive public health campaigns

[Oxford Dictionary Online]

  • 7
    +1 to backfire since it shares the connotation of accidentally "shooting" yourself as a result of your actions. Oct 1, 2014 at 23:37
  • @TimParenti -- a "backfire" has nothing to do with shooting. It's a characteristic malfunction of internal combustion engines. Fuel literally burns backwards into the intake manifold. Any immediate, obvious failure can be considered a backfire, whether it harms its initiator or indeed does any damage at all. Blowback does derive from firearms, but there it referred to something desirable. Oct 2, 2014 at 0:21
  • 4
    @Malvolio: There are words with more than one meaning, and "backfire" is one of them.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 2, 2014 at 9:59
  • 7
    @Malvolio while backfire can refer to an engine, this use of the term predates the existance of an engine. It is also when a gun is blocked and the firing pin comes out the back, literally reversing the intended action and this is where the phrase comes from.
    – JamesRyan
    Oct 2, 2014 at 11:06

I'm wondering if there's a word that describes the phenomenon where some party takes some action to remedy a situation and the result of that action makes the original situation worse.

First, "shooting oneself in the foot" doesn't necessarily imply that you were trying to remedy a bad situation, only that your actions have caused yourself misfortune in some way.

However, the examples you cite both sound more like the Streisand effect, in which attempting to suppress or censor something ironically results in an increase in its general popularity.

If you were looking for a more general word, there are a lots of words which indicate different degrees of this sort of mistake or error, like gaffe, fumble, and backfire. Gaffe and fumble especially imply that you've caused yourself misfortune in some way, though they tend to apply to verbal actions, as in,

The politician committed this election cycle's biggest gaffe when he gave reporters a piece of his mind, without realizing their cameras were rolling.

Backfire implies that you've caused yourself misfortune in a more general way, as in,

The plan to donate the company's excess revenue to charity backfired when it was revealed that the charity in question was the CEO's foundation.

  • Somewhat related: There's no such thing as bad publicity
    – Barmar
    Oct 1, 2014 at 16:26

Counterproductive: thwarting the achievement of an intended goal; tending to defeat one's purpose.

This is basically the adjective form of "backfired".


Backfired: to fail unexpectedly; to fail with an undesired result.

Not a noun, but a verb. A similar word is to have an action boomerang: to recoil or return unexpectedly, causing harm to its originator; backfire.

Shooting oneself in the foot is erroneously thought to have shifted meaning from the intentional act in WWI of soldiers to escape battle (a somewhat befeficial outcome) to the now popular meaning of to do or say something stupid which causes problems for you. (TFD) However, this appears to be a misconception.

An early example can be found in

a sad report in the Appleton Crescent newspaper of August 1857: “Mr. Darriel S. Leo, Consul to Basle, accidentally shot himself through the foot, four or five days ago, in a pistol gallery at Washington, and died on Sunday of lockjaw.” (WorldWideWords)

The author concludes

I’m sure the expression shoot oneself in the foot derives from such accidents, usually the result of incompetence, and has led to our current meaning of making an embarrassing error of judgement or inadvertently making one’s own situation worse. That men did it deliberately as a way to avoid combat is only a side meaning.



Sure, this is a hyphenated word, but it seems to convey the meaning of 1) caused by one's self, and 2) detrimental effect to one's self.

From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/self-sabotage

Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting. These acts may seem helpful in the moment, but ultimately undermine us, especially when we engage in them repeatedly.

  • Can you point to any usage of this word? (It shouldn't be hard.) As it stands, this doesn't look like a well-supported answer, and I think it could be. Oct 2, 2014 at 16:05

Own Goal is a metaphor often used in soccer-playing countries

  1. (General Sporting Terms) soccer a goal scored by a player accidentally playing the ball into his own team's net.
  2. any action that results in disadvantage to the person who took it or to a party, group, etc with which that person is associated

[The Free Dictionary]

  • An own goal is when a player scores a goal against their own—not the opposing—team, during sports games in which points-scored are referred to as "goals" (e.g., football). An own-goal is usually accidental, and may result from an attempt at a defensive play that either failed or was unexpectedly intercepted by an opposing player. It is considered to be one of the more embarrassing blunders in all of sports. An own goal is counted as a regular goal.
  • In some parts of the world, the term has become a metaphor for any action that backfires on the person/group undertaking it—sometimes even carrying a sense of "poetic justice". During The Troubles, for instance, it acquired a specific metaphorical meaning: referring to an IED (improvised explosive device) that detonated prematurely, killing the very person making/planting the bomb with the intent to harm only others.



The first usage was during WWI i will not even try to cover the war so hear is a like if you want to really learn where and how the term started: http://traffic.libsyn.com/dancarlinhh/dchha50_Blueprint_for_Armageddon_I.mp3


I have found the term "Plaxico-Burressing" is the most effective term. Especially in regards to your bit about the NFL. If you did not know Plaxico Burress was an ex NFL wide receiver, who shot himself in the foot on accident in a night club. He was soon after arrested and his NFL career went down the drain. I think this is the best analogous term for "shooting yourself in the foot".

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