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Sometimes your “mistake” results in a big success, or you find out that it actually was the correct way of doing it. I sarcastically call this a “correct mistake”. What do you call it? I don’t know if you can call it a “blessing in disguise”.

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    The expression is "a blessing in disguise," not "bless in disguise." – Nicole Dec 15 '14 at 20:43
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    I've come across 'a happy mistake' used with this meaning, but it's not a very common expression (so I won't post this as an 'answer'). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '14 at 20:49
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    a mismistake ? – ermanen Dec 15 '14 at 22:24
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    I think "blessing in disguise" is at least as good (if not better) than most of the answers you are getting. You also might be interested in English Language Learners, if you haven't checked out that community yet. – J.R. Dec 15 '14 at 22:38
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    "Blessing in disguise" is more some sort of immediate misfortune (not necessarily your doing) that results in your ultimate benefit; a great/tragic example of this would be a person who missed their flight to Los Angeles from Boston on September 11th due to a flat tire -- while it's unfortunate that they got a flat tire, had they made their flight they would've been killed. – Doktor J Dec 16 '14 at 6:46

10 Answers 10

34

A common expression is: a "happy accident" (US).

(a few days later...)

My husband just reminded me where I got that saying: Bob Ross- the guy with the mesmerizing painting show... I don't know if he originated it, but he sure made good use of it.

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    But it does not necessarily refer to a mistake. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '14 at 20:45
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    @Edwin: I'm not sure if you're going to find a single word or short phrase that means all and only those things you want it to mean. This phrase works just fine in the context you want, right? – Kevin Dec 15 '14 at 21:17
  • Any Bob Ross reference is a +1 in my book. – Minnow Dec 17 '14 at 2:47
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    Certainly not Bob Ross's coining: for example, it appears in Thomas Middleton's 1611 play No Wit, No Help Like a Woman's and Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield (1762). "Happy" had meant "fortunate" for slightly longer than it's meant "joyful", though the "fortunate" meaning has largely fallen out of use, except for this one phrase. – David Richerby Dec 17 '14 at 12:37
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Dumb luck:

good luck that happens by chance, without you planning it at all

or even more incredible, sheer dumb luck:

When something happens by sheer dumb luck, it is considered to have happened unintentionally and without planning.

Also, possibly [a lucky accident]or a fluke:

a stroke of good luck (“Whose run-away horse he had stopped …by the merest fluke,” 1889). ...it seems a small jump from meaning “guess” to “lucky shot" (in billiards), and I’d say that dialect word is almost certainly the source of this kind of “fluke.”

Possibly a reversal of fortune:

an act or instance of reversing; The point at which the action of the plot turns in an unexpected direction for the protagonist.

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    'Dumb luck' does not necessarily refer to a mistake. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '14 at 20:44
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    I agree that "dumb luck" doesn't necessarily refer to a mistake; fluke though, could refer to something that normally would be a mistake/error/etc instead turning out to provide the desired result. Many chemical discoveries were the result of flukes (often trying to achieve a different result, but attaining a nonetheless positive -- if unexpected -- result) – Doktor J Dec 16 '14 at 6:49
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Serendipity:

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way

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    But it does not necessarily refer to a mistake. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '14 at 20:48
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    @EdwinAshworth - You're saying that when Annette Funicello sang "Serendipity" on the Mickey Mouse Club she was lying, and the word does not mean "the art of happy accidents"? – Hot Licks Dec 16 '14 at 1:34
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    "Serendipitous mistake"? – Superbest Dec 16 '14 at 3:06
  • @Hot Licks – You're saying that an accident cannot be other than caused by a person's mistake? [OP: 'the “stupid” mistake that you have made ...'] Google Dictionary: accident noun 1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. "he had an accident at the factory" synonyms: mishap, misfortune, misadventure, mischance, unfortunate incident, injury, disaster, tragedy, catastrophe, contretemps, calamity, blow, trouble, problem, difficulty; 2. an[y] event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 16 '14 at 6:16
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You can consider these phrases that are directly related to mistakes with good outcomes:

  • lucky mistake
  • fortunate error
  • happy fault

There is also a Latin phrase (used in English), felix culpa, which is usually used in religious contexts. Its literal translation is "happy fault".

An apparent error or disaster with happy consequences.

But there seems to be a felix culpa happening here as well.

[oxforddictionaries]


Felix culpa is a Latin phrase that comes from the words felix (meaning "happy," "lucky," or "blessed") and culpa (meaning "fault" or "fall"), and in the Catholic tradition is most often translated "happy fault," as in the Paschal Vigil Mass Exsultet O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem, "O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer."

[Wikipedia]

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    This is pretty rare--so rare, in fact, that I don't know of any usage outside the orthodox religious tradition you cite. That said, it's a great phrase, so +1 anyway. – Kyle Strand Dec 15 '14 at 23:15
  • @Kyle Strand: I listed more common usages also. I will mention your comment. – ermanen Dec 15 '14 at 23:53
  • ....erm...in that case your antecedent in the last sentence ("It is also used as below...") is confusing; it sounds like you're saying that the phrase "felix culpa" is used more commonly. What you mean is that "the phrases below are more common." – Kyle Strand Dec 16 '14 at 0:25
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    @KyleStrand: I updated my answer again. Is it better now? – ermanen Dec 16 '14 at 1:30
  • Yes, I think so! – Kyle Strand Dec 16 '14 at 16:31
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The luck of the Irish

Because the Irish are famous for landing on their feet, in whatever dire or desperate situation they may find themselves in.

You did what? And it worked—that's the luck of the Irish!

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Lucky mistake, fortuitous error, falling on your feet, pulling a Homer...

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage @BlokeDownThePub. Good suggestions. I would also add: we're looking for answers with more detail. Your post would be improved if it included references and an explanation of why it answers the question. – andy256 Dec 16 '14 at 22:01
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"Vindication" would be an excellent word to describe that situation of events. On its face, this word may not seem to fit the mold of the questioner's intent, but looking more closely:

Vindication is the noun form of vindicate, coming from the Latin vindicare which has a primary meaning to lay claim to. Whatever your focus in this complex thought:

  • the "mistake" of misinterpreting the original act
  • the ultimate blessing of the original act
  • the process of correcting the mistake

the notion of laying claim to the ultimate blessing of the original act fits the meaning of vindication. What is is called when something you previously took to be a mistake turned out to be the correct decision? VINDICATION!

Vindication may not be the word that the original questioner wants to use, because of the various connotations of vengeance and punishment, but it would be a legitimate use of the word.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage @Scot. We're looking for answers with more detail. Your post would be improved if it included a reference and an explanation of why it answers the question. – andy256 Dec 16 '14 at 21:58
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In some contexts, a useful adjective might be salutary:

Merriam-Webster: having a good or helpful result especially after something unpleasant has happened

Oxford Dictionaries: (Especially with reference to something unwelcome or unpleasant) producing good effects; beneficial <a salutary reminder of where we came from>

Oxford English Dictionary: 1. Conducive to health; chiefly, serving to promote recovery from disease, or to counteract a deleterious influence. 2. Conducive to well-being; calculated to bring about a more satisfactory condition, or to remedy some evil; beneficial, ‘wholesome’. Often with figurative notion of sense 1. <The French..I look upon to be our natural and salutary enemies. They..hold us in exercise, and keep a quarrelsome people from falling out among themselves.> <The plot which ruined Bohun..produced important and salutary effects.>

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How about making the error the adjective instead of the other way around? For instance, "an erroneous success"?

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    That sounds a bit contradictory; perhaps "an accidental success"? – Hellion Dec 16 '14 at 19:13
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I'd describe it as very apropos meaning "very appropriate to a particular situation." An example seems fitting:

I slipped on a banana peel and fell just in time to miss the wrecking ball. How apropos.

Happy accident gets used a lot too as others have mentioned. (Please feel free to correct my usage here--my english isn't all that great.)

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    But that doesn't convey the sense that, at the time the action was performed, it was believed to be a mistake. – David Richerby Dec 17 '14 at 12:39

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