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I am looking for an idiom to describe an unintended benefit that results due to an action taken.

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    The icing on the cake (also, frosting on the cake) is in the same ball-park: 'An additional benefit to something already good. For example, All these letters of congratulation are icing on the cake, or After that beautiful sunrise, the rainbow is just frosting on the cake. This metaphoric expression alludes to the sweet creamy coating used to enhance a cake. [Mid-1900s]' ... The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer – Edwin Ashworth Jun 2 '15 at 7:58
  • Who has taken the action? The person who receives the benefit? Or someone else? Or does it not matter who has acted? Benefiting from something you had played no role in is sometimes called a windfall. – TRomano Jun 2 '15 at 10:09
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    @EdwinAshworth: icing on the cake doesn't always imply unintended/unexpected benefit, wouldn't you agree? I could say: "Great news: my parents are coming. And the icing on the cake: they're bringing the new phone they just bought for me." – Tushar Raj Jun 2 '15 at 10:20
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    @Tushar Raj Hence the comment rather than an answer. And hence 'is in the same ball-park' rather than ''is what you're after'. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 2 '15 at 10:22
  • @EdwinAshworth: Got it :) – Tushar Raj Jun 2 '15 at 10:32

12 Answers 12

13

Not an idiom, but a single word could be...

gravy

  1. something advantageous or valuable that is received or obtained as a benefit beyond what is due or expected. (Dictionary.com)

To cite an example, I'm reminded of a line of Charlie's from 2½ Men:

"Alan, he was happy to see his friends. Being away from you is just gravy." (=unintended benefit)


If the benefit is financial, you could also use...

windfall

an amount of money that somebody/something wins or receives unexpectedly (ODO)

EDIT: Like @Tim said, this can also be used metaphorically to refer to gains other than financial, but it doesn't quite convey the 'unintended' part.


If you're looking for an idiom, rather than a single word, consider:

pennies from heaven, a stroke of luck

But, again, these don't quite cover the 'unintended result of your own action'.

  • 1
    +1. I think windfall can be used figuratively to refer to any good fortune, not financial only. But it can only be used if it comes "out of the blue", that is, is not a side-effect of one's own actions. – TRomano Jun 2 '15 at 10:13
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    @TimRomano: Agreed, it doesn't explicitly imply 'side-effect of my own actions'. That's why it was my 2nd suggestion. I feel it works in some cases, though. "I expected to stock to go up, but not this much. This 10k is a windfall', something like that. (Buying the stock was my own action, returns were unexpectedly high.) – Tushar Raj Jun 2 '15 at 10:31
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    +1 for gravy. Almost all the other suggestions, including windfall, can also be said of situations where no action on my part is required. – shipr Jun 2 '15 at 16:14
  • IMO these all describe extra gains, not unintended gains. In terms of money, for example, every dollar gained was intended, even if it's "extra" or beyond the original target. If my organization's gains also yield increased stability throughout the market, that's an unintended gain. I'd be hesitant to use any of these terms to describe that. – talrnu Jun 2 '15 at 18:15
  • To put it another way, there's a (perhaps subtle) difference between unexpected and unintended. – talrnu Jun 2 '15 at 18:18
12

Happy Accident describes your intention:

a pleasant situation or event that is not planned or intended - We never planned to have a third child - it was a happy accident

Fortuitous is a somewhat looser fit

adjective 1. happening or produced by chance; accidental: a fortuitous encounter. 2. lucky; fortunate: a series of fortuitous events that advanced her career.

11

You could call it a side benefit.

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/side-benefit

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    Also fringe benefit, bonus. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 2 '15 at 8:05
  • thanks :), it could be as simple as that but it does convey the meaning – Nav Jun 2 '15 at 10:06
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Serendipitous

Occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way

Oxforddictionaries

6

My first thought was bonus, particularly an added bonus.

Similarly, a surprise described in the right context would fit the bill, particularly an extra surprise.

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    "Bonus" already implies something extra, so "added bonus" strikes many as gratingly redundant. It often shows up on lists of language pet peeves, along with "final outcome" and "personal opinion." – Nicole Jun 2 '15 at 18:19
  • It might not be pretty, but added bonus is quite idiomatic, at least in American English (see any Billy Mays-style TV ad) – talrnu Jun 2 '15 at 18:20
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    I'm not saying it should never be used; however, the redundancy is something to keep in mind depending on your audience. And for what it's worth, the list of language pet peeves that I referred to was compiled by a journalist polling American newspaper readers. – Nicole Jun 2 '15 at 18:43
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    Not to drag this out (we agree, after all), but when the added bonus is mentioned in addition to a separate, previously described bonus (as is often the case in those TV ads I mentioned), it's not redundant. I believe excessive use in this way has led it to be used in cases when it actually is redundant, perhaps in jocular reference to those ads and their obnoxious style. Not making an argument, just an observation. – talrnu Jun 2 '15 at 18:54
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    Don't you know? People on the internet argue even when they agree! ;) – Nicole Jun 2 '15 at 19:31
4

Stroke of luck:

also a stroke of fortune

something good that happens to you when you do not expect it
To walk in and get a job like that was an incredible stroke of luck.

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms

Stroke was derived from the verb strike:

"act of striking," c. 1300,
probably from Old English *strac "stroke," from Proto-Germanic *straik- (cognates: Middle Low German strek, German streich, Gothic striks "stroke"); see stroke (v.).

The meaning "mark of a pen" is from 1560s;
that of "a striking of a clock" is from mid-15c.
Sense of "feat, achievement" (as in stroke of luck, 1853) first found 1670s;
the meaning "single pull of an oar or single movement of machinery" is from 1731.
Meaning "apoplectic seizure" is from 1590s (originally the Stroke of God's Hand).
Swimming sense is from 1800.

etymonline.com emphasis mine

  • Again, not necessarily describing 'an unintended benefit that results due to an action taken'. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 2 '15 at 10:55
3

I can't believe no one has offered the idiom:

Icing on the cake.

Fig. an extra enhancement. Oh, wow! A tank full of gas in my new car. That's icing on the cake! Your coming home for a few days was the icing on the cake.

From the idioms.thefreedictionary.com

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    whoops, I see someone put it in the comments under the question - why not just post as an answer though, I'm confused. – maxwell Jun 2 '15 at 19:18
  • Read the comments below the question. – Tushar Raj Jun 4 '15 at 20:10
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A “fluke” is something that happens unexpectedly because of an accident or good luck and could describe such an unintended benefit. Although they’re not always beneficial, “flukes” are usually good things.

“Flukes” can result from a single action (as your question seems to require), as Jed Clampett’s discovery of oil (arguably a benefit to Mr. Clampett) while shooting at a rabbit was a fluke, but they can also be the result of a series of actions or circumstances, or even inaction.

Regarding the distinction between “accidental,” “chance,” “unexpected,” and “unintentional” these words are related as are“unintended, unexpected, and ‘fluke’.

For an idiom using “fluke” for such benefits (and especially the action of obtaining them), you could combine it with “into” or ”upon” to describe “something that was just fluked into or fluked upon,” although these are not nearly as common as other “into”/”unto” idioms such as “fell upon” and “lucked into.”

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Single word-> bonanza..... a noun that means "a sudden rush of wealth or good fortune."

  • "the demand for testing has created a boom for those unregulated laboratories where boxes of specimen jars are processed like an assembly line"

manna from heaven:

unexpected help or comfort. (A biblical reference- TFD.)

  • It was like manna from heaven for the exercise-haters, for a sedentary society with elevated levels of obesity and diabetes: exercise less and live longer! (Forbes, Feb 8, 2015)
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This would only be used in the context of the other results of the action being negative, but the idiom every cloud has a silver lining, or just the phrase silver lining might work.

  • In my experience, at least, the idiomatic silver lining that clouds have has nothing to do with unintented effects of an action. In the same way that clouds "just are", so is the silver lining that they have. Its not the result of anything, it's part and parcel of the thing. In addition, not every occurence of the action that had the benefit will have the serendipitous result, wheras, as you said, every cloud has a silver lining. – GreenAsJade Jun 3 '15 at 9:55
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  1. happy accident
  2. to boot
  3. icing on the cake
  4. gravy

(in order of ethical virtue/vice of circumstances)

  • 1
    Hello, AxeChops-'GuitarSkills', and welcome to English Language & Usage. Your answer suggests some valid possibilities—but three of them (happy accident, icing on the cake, and gravy) were suggested by other posters before you submitted your answer. In addition, you don't provide any explanation for the ranking you provide for the four terms, which makes it sound highly subjective. Perhaps the best way to strengthen your answer would be to drop the three already-suggested terms and focus instead on explaining why "to boot" is a good phrase to use. Thanks! – Sven Yargs Jun 3 '15 at 4:33
  • Language is highly subjective. The ranking itself is my very helpful contribution. Those are the only of these suggestions that would truly answer the question. 'Happy accident' isn't quite idiomatic, but it fits the bill, 'accidental' in this context is similar to 'incidental'. – AxeChops Jul 3 '15 at 9:18
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serendipitous

adjective adjective: serendipitous

occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way. "a serendipitous encounter"

From Oxford Dictionaries online.

  • 1
    Hello, dbw, and welcome to English Language & Usage. Serendipitous is a solid suggestion, and you've gone the extra mile of providing a definition of the term (albeit from an unidentified source). But Myanmite posted the same suggestion in an answer 13 hours before you did, so your answer doesn't bring much to the discussion that wasn't already there. Still, I hope that you will find other opportunities to make timely contributions to EL&U. Thanks! – Sven Yargs Jun 3 '15 at 1:00

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