Something that looks like a good thing at first, but has unforeseen bad consequences.

For instance, while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis. (From wikipedia)

Major edit in body to provide a better example as requested in the comments. Saeid, please let us know if you disagree and this conflicts with your intent. -T.R.

  • 10
    The example you quote is not the opposite of a 'blessing in disguise'. A blessing in disguise is when something seeming bad happens but it turns out to be good. In this example something bad happened - a car service didn't show up - and it turned out to be worse. Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:04
  • 2
    I think it's a bit of a stretch to say he was killed "because the car service... didn't show up." Failure of one service to show did not cause a traffic accident.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:17
  • 6
    Upvote this comment if you want the example edited to a more suitable one.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:59
  • 2
    @Saeid Missing a flight (misfortune) and then not dying because of it (fortuitous) is a blessing in disguise. Getting a ticket to a flight that was supposed to be sold out when somebody cancels (fortuitous) and then dying in the crash (misfortune) would be the opposite. Hiring a taxicab after a car service not showing up is just solving your problem, not having something fortuitous happen to you.
    – DCShannon
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:09
  • 4
    Do you actually want the opposite of "blessing in disguise", or do you want a term to describe the event you describe?
    – Catija
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:32

11 Answers 11


In certain contexts, a poisoned chalice works.

An assignment, award, or honour which is likely to prove a disadvantage or source of problems to the recipient: "many thought the new minister had been handed a poisoned chalice" (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/poisoned-chalice)

When something is a curse in disguise (in the disguise of a blessing), you can also simply say that something is more of a curse than a blessing.

  • 1
    Similarly, alluding to the fairy tale of Snow White, people sometimes speak of a "poison apple."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 22:48
  • 1
    I'm confused how this fits the OP's description at all... An "award" is a positive thing... your transportation failing to arrive is a negative thing. I would agree that it does answer the "opposite" of "blessing in disguise", it does not fit what the OP is actually asking for in the content of the question, though.
    – Catija
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:31
  • 1
    Yes. It has a more general application; Wikipedia makes this sense clear: 'The term "poisoned chalice" is applied to a thing or situation which appears to be good when it is received or experienced by someone, but then becomes or is found to be bad.' Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:05

A 'curse in disguise' is the literal opposite, and isn't unheard-of. As in:

  • King Midas' gift of turning everything he touched to gold was a curse in disguise.

The phrase be careful what you wish for also comes to mind (Usingenglish.com)

If you get things that you desire, there may be unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. ('Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.' and 'Be careful what you wish for; you may receive it.' are also used.)

Also see, this wikipedia entry on unintended consequences:

Unexpected drawback: A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).

... In CIA jargon, "blowback" describes the unintended, undesirable consequences of covert operations,

Blowback seems to fit

chiefly US The unintended adverse results of a political action or situation:

PS - I can't remember where, but I've seen the phrase Monkey's Paw used for this. A reference to the WW Jacobs short story, in which supposedly good things happen with disastrous causes behind them.

  • Probably the Monkey's paw may fit, do you have any reference? The other examples lack the "disguise" part of the question.
    – user66974
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:21
  • @Josh61: Unfortunately not. Trying to find one.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:29
  • 2
    I don't think Midas' gift was in disguise. He got exactly what he wanted. He was just rash and unthoughtful about the consequences of wish.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 16:28
  • 1
    @A.Ellett: If you were the one who downvoted, you might want to consider that even if you disagree with my example, my suggestion still stands and should be the real reason to evaluate the answer here. Secondly, Midas got exactly what he wanted, which turned out to be a curse in disguise. The two aren't mutually exclusive. The very concept of curse in disguise is based on unforeseen bad consequences.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 19:09
  • Blowback just generally refers just unforeseen, unwanted consequences of your own actions. Blowback does not appear to be a blessing. None of the examples really fit the actual question. This answer just goes off on its own tangent.
    – Carl Smith
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 19:22

The example of the OP seems to be the "opposite" of a blessing in disguise in the sense that a setback had disastrous as opposed to beneficial consequences. We might call such a setback a disaster in the making:

in the process of happening

It became clear that this was a disaster in the making and we had no way of coping with it.

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003.

No one could have known it in advance, but in retrospect, that setback in car service was a disaster in the making for John Forbes Nash, Jr.

  • 2
    +1 for an interesting rationalization of "opposite". Most others are gravitating toward curse in disguise. The opposite of a phrase often produces a few bizarre permutations.
    – Ed Miller
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:55

I would suggest that an unfortunate turn of events accurately conveys what you're trying express to here.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the car service that Dr John Nash had hired did not turn up. He hired a taxi cab which was involved in a crash, and both Dr Nash and his wife were killed.


Probably a Trojan horse may convey the idea of something apparently good or positive but that in reality is dangerous:

(Classical Mythology. a gigantic hollow wooden horse, left by the Greeks upon their pretended abandonment of the siege of Troy. The Trojans took it into Troy and Greek soldiers concealed in the horse opened the gates to the Greek army at night and conquered the city.)

  • a person or thing intended to undermine or destroy from within.

( dictionary.reference.com)

  • +1, That's actually the opposite of a blessing in disguise, as the Trojan horse was a disaster disguised as a gift. It's not a great word to describe the example, but that's a pretty poor example.
    – DCShannon
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:05

The example given is not the opposite of a blessing in disguise, it's going from bad to worse. So you could say, in Nash's case, that "Murphy's law" applies:

Anything that can possibly go wrong, will

or you could say that he

jumped out of the frying pan into the fire


As Tushar Raj's answer notes, one traditional way to describe a bad result that at first looks like a blessing is in connection with the warning "Be careful what you wish for" (sometimes completed with the phrase "because it might come true").

A familiar instance of this warning is in the cautionary fable from Aesop of "The Frogs Who Wished for a King." The public domain Aesop for Children tells the fable this way:

The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

"How now!" cried Jupiter "Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes."

[Moral:] Be sure you can better your condition before you seek to change.

The moral is the conclusion of the Aesop for Children compilers. An equally valid moral might be "Be careful what you wish for—it might come true."


Possibly "the devil's in the details" or "there's no such thing as a free lunch" — though you'd need a more realistic example to see if they'd be appropriate in your case.

Both convey the idea of a thing that's good at first sight but may come with a catch (though the second doesn't necessarily mean it was bad on the whole).

"Every silver lining has its cloud" is a turn of phrase I've heard recently too (I'll try to find a source) — though not a common expression, it's easily understood & could be used here too, I think.


You could says that it's a
Trojan Horse - TFD definition

In my language there is even a better phrase, but I found out it doesn't directly translate into English / isn't well known.

It's something like "fear the Danaans, even if bearing gifts!"

More info here on wiki: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes

  • Trojan horse has already been suggested by josh61, and the idiom/saying you propose is not an English one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 18:33
  • @Mari-LouA - As we Americans say, don't let the bastards get you down. Use EL&U on your terms; leave if it's best for you. Stay if you want. But please know that you've been a bright light on this site, and always an example to me of what is good. Commented May 28, 2017 at 21:43

The opposite of "blessing in disguise" which, as you have correctly pointed out, means a perceived misfortune unexpectedly turning into a fortunate event, would be a seemingly fortunate event turning out to be quite unfortunate. In this case we could say "even roses have thorns", or "not everything is as it seems", or maybe something else, depending on the situation. But the situation you have described is not a fortunate event turning out bad, because the source of the misfortune - the car not showing up - is not a fortunate event in itself.


Double edged sword is a phrase that could be used in this context to highlight that some things have two sides to them

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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