Here's a quote from the bible:

“He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” - John 21:5-6

The bible is quoted for the sole purpose of being an example for where this word would be applicable. It isn't though because the disciples get their fish to shore and some story goes on, making all people happy and satisfied. Read the book, and don't judge Jesus from a passage.

So, Jesus here is attempting to help his disciples by getting them more fish, but it results in more fish than they can handle, so the help caused them to have another problem to haul the fish. The help simply does not help because it's too much of it.

Another made up example would be someone getting help with his job where the one who's helping finish all of his work, leaving the person jobless, or somehow unemployed. Fail to help by helping.

Is there any word in English (or any other language), that has this meaning or similar?

  • Jesus was showing them that they needed to be adaptable if they were to handle the size of his blessings. They hauled the net behind them to the shore (which, surprise, surprise, they were not far out from). The 'problem' was really a greater blessing; they had to learn not to be so prescriptive. Sorry, religious. Hidebound. When less wise people try their best to help but actually make matters worse, one often says 'it backfired'. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 10:42
  • I know the exact word in my native language (Tamil). If only I could get it translated properly!
    – BiscuitBoy
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 13:40
  • 1
    Not a single word : "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".
    – Graffito
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 20:54
  • I think the part of the question admonishing us not to judge Jesus is misplaced. This is not a site for religious advocacy/commentary (there are sites in the SE network where it might be appropriate, and that comment can be placed there, or perhaps on chat) and a question is not a podium. Note that I am not saying the text being quoted is misplaced, just the commentary on how someone might internally respond to it. It's irrelevant to the question and I think it should be removed. [However, if someone comments along those lines in an answer, that would in many cases also be inappropriate .]
    – Glen_b
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 2:32
  • @Glen_b I agree. It wasn't there originally, but later on added as comments showed up relating more to interpretations of the Bible or other other corrections. Neither my comment nor their comments belongs in this question. How do we get rid of both in the best way possible? Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 10:35

10 Answers 10


The word disservice is sometimes used to mean an action done with good intentions but leading to a bad result:

disservice: an act intended to help that turns out badly


However, I think you are misinterpreting the Bible passage. The basic rule of hermeneutics is reading the passage in context. If you continue reading, you will find that your statement "the help simply does not help" is not true:

The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish...

(ESV, Jn. 21, verse 8)

Obviously, they got the fish all right.

  • 1
    I will take disservice as an answer, as it has the most important significance of primarily being intended to help, which just simply didn't. I'm also sorry about not giving the full story of Jesus; having him projected as not helpful to the fishers in the quotation made, giving the impression of Jesus not being a nice guy. I will, as much as I can, make sure to make full understanding of whole concepts of what I am reading, without emitting any context, to make sure that I will not misinterpret any scripture. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 16:25
  • 1
    @ChristopherJanzon I think you made the right call. +1) for A.P.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:08
  • @ChristopherJanzon Glad it works for you :)
    – A.P.
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 18:22

The word backfire is often used in this situation:

backfire (Of a plan or action)

have an opposite and undesirable effect to what was intended:

overzealous publicity backfired on her


This distances the consequences from the overzealous (would-be) do-gooders.

The word do-gooder itself is usually used in a pejorative sense, for someone more interested in creating an image than in actually benefitting the persons needing help.


You could consider using the verb boomerang:

to cause harm to the originator; backfire.

[Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary]

The word boomerang effect fits in your context:

Researchers have reported that some public health interventions have produced effects opposite to those intended in health communication such as smoking and alcohol consumption behaviors, and thus have employed various methods to study them under different contexts. Ringold argued that some consumer’s negative reactions on alcoholic beverage warnings and education efforts can be explained concisely by Brehm’s psychological reactance theory.[26] These results suggested that boomerang effects should be considered as potential costs of launching mass communication campaigns.

Mann and Hill[28] investigated the case of litter control and showed that the combination of different positive influence strategies could actually create boomerang effect and decrease the amount of appropriate disposal of waste.


Economist article on the boomerang effect.

As Chinese wages rise, some production is moving back to the rich world

  • 1
    The description of boomerang sounds like they had ill intentions to start with, which doesn't fit in with OPs question. Maybe that is just one specific use of the word though.
    – Zack T.
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 14:44
  • @ZackT. Yes, you are right. But it could be the other way around as in the Economist article. All expressions seem to be the same, i.e. 'never before has a devious little plan backfired so badly' from Oxford Online Dictionary. I think disservice is the closest. What do you think?
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 14:48
  • I can definitely see the definition of boomerang effect fitting the question, but disservice does sound better to me personally.
    – Zack T.
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:05
  • @ZackT. I can't agree with you more. I upvoted the answer with disservice.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 17:07
  • @Rathony Backfire and boomerang are both having quite similar meaning to my question, and they may come more in handy rather than disservice. But for my question, disservice fits better as being more precise. Thanks! Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 18:12


mean well

: to intend to be nice, polite, helpful, etc., but fail in the effort. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

blow back

: to have a bad effect instead of the result one expected


: to miss an intended effect or objective M-W

: to fail to achieve the desired result, effect, etc. Random House

fizzle out

: to fail, end weakly, especially after a hopeful beginning. The word fizzle dates from the early 1500s and meant "to break wind without making noise." Later it was applied to hissing noises, such as those made by wet fireworks, and then to any endeavor that ends in disappointment. [Colloquial; mid-1800s] The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer

  • I agree with the term 'to mean well', but not so much the others.
    – Pharap
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 7:24

I believe the word officious could be used; as it implicitly states an assertion to do something in order to abet an effort, albeit the product of good intentions, but which ultimately results in an encumbrance for the person in need.



I've often heard the term "stepping on toes." That's when you try to help but usually just end up getting in the way.


"too much of a good thing" is an idiomatic phrase. As a single word, "excessive" is somewhat to the point though it does not include the "well-meant" angle.


Overhelping seems to be used here and there (179.000 hits):

Even got its own Wiktionary entry!

To supply with too much help.


Daddy always said that it is not helping someone unless they accept it; only hell paving.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.



From Wiktionary:

overzealous ‎(comparative more overzealous, superlative most overzealous)

Too zealous; too enthusiastic, determined; too fervent.

With his overzealous attempts to impress, he only managed to annoy her.

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