When something starts going wrong, then when you try to correct, you overcorrect and make things worse, then you try to correct it again, and again overcorrect, making things worse again, etc, until eventually failure happens.

For example, if I'm driving in the rain and I start to skid to the left, so I cut the wheel to the right, and the car starts moving back toward center (where it should be) but goes past center and starts skidding even worse to the right, so I try to correct it again and it goes past center and back to the left, and eventually I spin out or hit a tree.

Strictly speaking, I was doing the right thing (well maybe this is a bad example because there might be a better way to handle a skid but hopefully you can tell what I mean), but I did too much of the right thing and made the problem greater in magnitude but opposite in direction, which raises the potential for the next iteration of overcorrection.

Can be noun, verb, phrase, whatever.

  • Is there a particular reason "overcorrection" doesn't work for you? If you're looking for a similar alternative, overcompensation might be apt. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 13:56
  • "Overcorrection" could just mean that I overcorrected once, or that I recovered from it without a disastrous result.
    – Devsman
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:01
  • "a vicious cycle of overcorrection" then. ;) Joking aside, you could say something like "repeated overcorrection" I guess, but honestly the phrase you used in your question seems like a fine way to describe what you're asking to me. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:02
  • Vicious circle or cycle seems fine....
    – DAVE
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:05
  • 1
    It's called "oscillation".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 21:36

8 Answers 8


A figurative meaning of 'spiral' is '...a progressive movement in one direction ... marking a relentlessly deteriorating state of affairs; especially one caused by the interaction or alternate overtaking of interdependent quantities.'(OED)

So, you could say that 'a vicious cycle of overcorrection' might be described as spiralling out of control.

  • 3
    "Downward spiral of overcorrection" seems perfect.
    – BenL
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:47

engineer here

overcorrection - when too much corrective force is applied in a closed loop system, and the system returns through the set point and continues on. example, trying to thread a needle, and your hand wavers back and forth.

oscillation - a system that goes through a repeated cycle. Any system with negative feedback, a time delay, and inertia will oscillate unless steps are taken to damp it. If the gain of the circuit is > 1, it will oscillate forever. (technical types, I'm threading a path between clarity and accuracy here).

Oscillation can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you're making a radio transmitter you need oscillation. If you're trying to steer a car it's bad.

engineers would tend to call this 'divergent oscillation' (it's getting worse), 'wild oscillation', 'large oscillations', or 'uncontrolled oscillation'.


How about iatrogenic, iatrogenesis.

Iatrogenesis (from the Greek for "brought forth by the healer") refers to any effect on a person, resulting from any activity of one or more persons acting as healthcare professionals or promoting products or services as beneficial to health, that does not support a goal of the person affected.

  • Perhaps too specific, but I love the word and I've never seen it before. Thanks!
    – BenL
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 22:33
  • +1, not exactly what I was thinking of but could apply in some contexts.
    – Devsman
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 13:24

That is 'tampering' with something, like Man's tampering with Nature

Merriam-Webster's definition of the verb 'to tamper':

  1. to carry on underhand or improper negotiations (as by bribery)

  2. a. to interfere so as to weaken or change for the worse —used with with 'did not want to tamper with tradition'

    b. to try foolish or dangerous experiments —used with with

  3. to render something harmful or dangerous by altering its structure or composition 'was charged with tampering with consumer products'

Merriam-Webster's definition of 'tamper'

Two wrongs don't make a right!

Playing the Sorcerer's apprentice

It does not (yet) exist, but the portmanteau word 'an improverishment' might fit the bill!

Your question says: 'can be noun, verb, phrase, whatever'… I am very fond of whatever!


Consider, [jump] out of/from the frying pan into the fire

Fig. from a bad situation to a worse situation. (*Typically: get ~; go ~; jump ~.) When I tried to argue about my fine for a traffic violation, the judge charged me with contempt of court. I really went out of the frying pan into the fire. I got deeply in debt. Then I really got out of the frying pan into the fire when I lost my job.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs


On page 14 of TRANSALTA RENEWABLES’ circular for a special stockholders’ meeting:

"Cumulative Overadjustment" [is defined as] … the amount, if any, by which (a) the aggregate of the Gross Margin Sharing Target Amounts for all previous fiscal years following December 31, 2025, before giving effect to any adjustments pursuant to paragraph (c) of the definition of "Dividend Amount", exceeds (b) the aggregate of the Gross Margin of Sarnia LP for all such previous fiscal years plus the aggregate amount of all upward adjustments to the Gross Margin Sharing Target Amount pursuant to paragraph (c) of the definition of "Dividend Amount" for all such previous fiscal years.

Later on the same page in item (c) under the definition of “Dividend Amount” it is stated that the “cumulative adjustment” amount will be taken into account to arrive at the correct “Gross Margin Sharing Target Amount,” which in turn is used to arrive at the correct “Dividend Amount.”

This notion could be transferable to your scenario for it sounds like a “cumulative overadjustment” amount is the sum of all prior overadjustments (please read as “overcorrections”) that represents and explains the difference between the correct or intended target [amount] (the center of your traveling lane on the highway) and the incorrect or unintended target [amount] (i.e., the tree and/or ditch).

cumulative (from ‘Merriam-Webster’)
1 a : made up of accumulated parts
b : increasing by successive additions

overadjustment (from ‘Collins Dictionary)
noun 1. an adjustment that is too great


"Speed wobble" is a term that closely describes your example of the car losing control, and describes the situation in which the correction in steering by either the driver or the forces acting on the wheel continues to over-compensate in the other direction, which has an additive effect each time it corrects, which eventually produces such a sharp turn that the sideways force flips the vehicle over.

Also "Out of balance" is used to describe things that are spinning and have an unequal weight distribution causing a wobble, for example an out of balance washing machine or a tire that is out of balance.

  • 1
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 6:20

Well, there are probably numerous answers for this, but the one that immediately comes to my mind is perfectionism.

Explained HERE

A perfectionist will correct, overcorrect, and over-overcorrect until the result is flawed by the very endeavor for perfection.

More specifically, you might use the phrase pathological perfectionism to describe a vicious cycle of overcorrection, as this would involve perfectionism to the point of being counterproductive or damaging to a system or individual (hence pathological, which is often used as a metaphor for things which are analogous to disease and illness).

A longer rephrasing of this might be be plagued by perfectionism to the point of pathology.

  • 2
    Can you really call someone a perfectionist for accidentally overcorrecting their steering while skidding in the rain, though? Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:28
  • Perhaps not, but if that's the example we're using, can we really call it a vicious cycle?
    – Adam Hayes
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:34
  • 5
    Only if I was riding a motorbike. ;) Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:34

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