I am looking for a word to describe a situation where one wants to do good things but ends up with something bad.

It generally happens with me, I always think of doing something good but sometimes end up with something bad.

  • 5
    It sounds like "well-intentioned" might work.
    – Nicole
    Dec 17, 2014 at 18:04

4 Answers 4


well intentioned. From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

having or showing good intentions despite a lack of success or fortunate results: well-intentioned advice.

  • 1
    AHDEL doesn't require the contrast: Marked by or having good intentions. The connotation is often present, though. Also, Nicole posted this first. Dec 17, 2014 at 19:05
  • Yes, she did. No offense intended. If you noticed, I didn't have enough points to comment. Her answer was brief enough to warrant amplification, so I used the means available to me. Agreed, the contrast is not required but is presupposed in much common usage.
    – ericuhe
    Dec 18, 2014 at 20:23

Perhaps unintended consequences.

This term can refer to positive, neutral or negative outcomes from a purposeful act. Wikipedia describes the last type

A backfire or perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This has been dubbed the 'cobra effect', after an anecdote about how a bounty for killing cobras in British India created a perverse incentive for people to breed cobras.

As noted, cobra effect might cover it, but that seems a bit obscure (I had never heard of it before).

As also noted, the term backfire is sometimes used

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

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Finally, the phrase, the best laid plans ... is sometimes offered as an observance of the situation you describe. It is a slightly modified shortened reference to the Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy! (The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!)

  • 'unintended consequences' may or may not be negative. I believe well-intentioned is more suitable.
    – dev gr
    Dec 18, 2014 at 3:24

Try Schlemiel. It comes from Yiddish, but has become common enough in American English that it was part of the opening theme to Lavern & Shirley in the '80s.

It describes a good natured person who tries to help out but always makes things worse. It is commonly paired with Schlemazel, his friend, to whom all the bad things happen. Think Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, or even further back, Laurel and Hardy.


There is a rare loan word from German: schlimmbesserung

making something worse through an attempt to make things better


The term is also a neologism in German [though German is very flexible to create new compound words] formed by compounding two words schlimm (= bad, evil, severe, ... ) and Besserung (= improvement, betterment).

It usually applies to improvements that ends up making the situation worse or even useless improvements and inventions. There are also neologistic translations of the term: worse-betterment, worse-bettering, deprovement.

Further read with examples:

Translated literally, Schlimmerbesserung comes out as ‘a worse-bettering’. It might be rendered ‘correcting badly’. Hence it has been used about Microsoft software. Howard Rheingold in his book, They have a Word For It, uses the example of the introduction of bus lanes which forces the rest of the traffic into the remaining lane or lanes: more snarl-ups rather than the intended less. Another example is the polystyrene cup. Great idea, but what do with we do with all the polystyrene which won’t biodegrade? They make them out of plastic now – do they biodegrade? But what of polystyrene packaging including those little beads and squiggles?

Since few know what a word like schlimmbesserung means has to be explained first, unlike blitzkrieg, ersatz or kindergarten. That’s the joy of it: a perfect excuse to introduce a concept.


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