Is there a word in English connected to a process resulting in not just an unexpected outcome, but the direct opposite of its intended effect? Like feeling more tired after waking up? Or feeling dirtier after washing your hands (because the bathroom isn't clean)?

Example Sentence:

"I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so _____."

  • 1
    Can you add the customary example sentence required for an SWR? Feb 19, 2017 at 11:19
  • @alwayslearning "I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so _____." Does that work?
    – miltonaut
    Feb 19, 2017 at 13:09
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    I'm not answering because it's not actually anything like an opposite of 'intended effect', but idiomatically the end of that sentence is: 'That's so typical[ of me]!' (It usually of course isn't typical, but conveys annoyance at oneself for doing daft things.)
    – OJFord
    Feb 19, 2017 at 13:51
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    Unexpected could be the opposite, but could also be something completely different. If I push a chair and the chair moves towards me instead of away, that's opposite of expectation. If the chair transforms into an albatross and flies around the room, that's unexpected, but not opposite of expectation.
    – barbecue
    Feb 19, 2017 at 22:19
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    From the question title I thought you were looking for a verb, and I thought, backfire. But that's not the kind of word you were looking for apparently.
    – Mr Lister
    Feb 20, 2017 at 8:50

13 Answers 13


Ironically, I think the word ironically could be used here literally.

"I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so ironic."

I prefer a different sentence though.

Ironically, I woke up less rested than when I went to sleep.

  • I really wasn't sure (still am not) if I was looking for a noun or an adjective, so it's not the best of example sentences...
    – miltonaut
    Feb 20, 2017 at 7:05
  • 3
    When the word you wish to use is found, often the sentence, paragraph and more must be adjusted. Feb 20, 2017 at 16:30
  • @miltonaut Just as a point, while a thing can be ironic (adjective), you could also use 'irony', the noun form. E.g. "The irony is that I woke up less rested than when I went to sleep."
    – Doc
    Feb 22, 2017 at 6:34

Based on the example sentence, a suitable word is counterintuitive.

"I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so counterintuitive."


counterintuitive ADJECTIVE

Contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation (but often nevertheless true)

‘The trick is again counter-intuitive: instead of accelerating rapidly when traffic gets going, travel more slowly.’

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    Only a rule can be counterintuitive, not an individual experience. Feb 19, 2017 at 15:23
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    @michael.hor257k, can you please point me to a resource which says only a rule can be counterintuitive? Also, please check the other examples at the ODO entry cited/linked. Feb 19, 2017 at 15:26
  • I up voted this answer, but I think a few others are actually just as good. I don't think there is a single word answer for this situation, I think there are many adjectives that would work. A thesaurus would be most applicable. Feb 19, 2017 at 17:56
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    @michael.hor257k really? That's kind of counter intuitive. Especially because many rules themselves aren't necessarily intuitive. Hence why they're rules.
    – BruceWayne
    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:35

adjective ​ having an effect that is opposite to the one intended or wanted:
Improved safety measures in cars can be counterproductive as they encourage people to drive faster.



I would say that in your specific example paradoxical fits best.



Seemingly absurd or self-contradictory.

‘by glorifying the acts of violence they achieve the paradoxical effect of making them trivial’

  • 1
    "That's so paradoxical", to use the ops example. youth is wasted on the young. "i was so much older then, i'm younger than that now" (Dylan). the sun was so hot i froze to death etc.
    – user175542
    Feb 19, 2017 at 20:05
  • In drugs in mean opposite effect en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradoxical_reaction
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 17:04

You can say it backfired on you.

Definition from OED:



1: (of a vehicle or its engine) undergo a mistimed explosion in the cylinder or exhaust.

‘a car backfired in the road and shoppers ducked instinctively’

2: (of a plan or action) have an opposite and undesirable effect to what was intended.

‘overzealous publicity backfired on her’

"I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That backfired on me."


A common word which means the opposite or inverse of what is expected is contrary. It's often used in phrases like "on the contrary" or "to the contrary" when talking about the direct opposite of a desired effect.

Similar words include contradictory and antithetical. Contradictory tends to have connotations of evidence or information, as in contradictory statements, and antithetical is more often associated with beliefs or principles than expectations or outcomes. Contrary is more likely to be associated with an outcome or result.

"I expected gas prices to rise on the announcement of the embargo, but quite the contrary, they actually dropped."

It could be used in the example sentence like so... "I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so contrary."

and this would be understandable by most people, but would sound archaic or off. It would more commonly used in a phrase like "contrary to expectation."

A more likely example would be something like this: "I got 8 hours of sleep, but I don't feel rested. On the contrary, I feel more tired than when I went to sleep."


The word you're looking for is blowback:

blowback an unforeseen and unwanted effect, result, or set of repercussions.

blowback the unintended consequences, the unwanted (side-)effects or suffered repercussions of a covert operation that fall back on those responsible for the aforementioned operations.

Although the term is generally used to refer to politics and the activities of secret agencies, it can mnemonically be used in other contexts, and it is an apt phrase for what you describe.

  • 1
    This word indicates unexpected or surprising consequences, but not that they are actually the opposite of the intention. The side-effects could be tangential and still be blowback.
    – barbecue
    Feb 19, 2017 at 22:00
  • I think of blowback more a resistance.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 20, 2017 at 16:36

Feeling dirtier and more tired after taking a shower and getting 8 hours of sleep defies logic.
In a word, it’s downright “logic-defying.”

Definition of '-defying' (from Collins English Dictionary)
(in combination)
at odds or in contradiction with the thing specified
an imposing and logic-defying structure


How about boomerang? It doesn't capture your example sentence, but it does get at an action having the opposite of the desired effect.


boomerang: (of a plan or action) recoil on the originator.

OD provides numerous supporting examples.


I would simply say "That doesn't make sense." Like in "I had a huge lunch but felt even hungrier than before. That didn't make any sense". Or "I went out of my way to accommodate him but he still didn't have a single nice word. It just didn't make sense."


A side-effect of anti-depressants can be additional depression.

Side-effect noun

any effect of a drug, chemical, or other medicine that is in addition to its intended effect, especially an effect that is harmful or unpleasant.

  • I find it fascinating that the legal blurbs on ads for anti-depressants include such side effects as "increased thoughts of suicide". To me, that's pretty much a deal-breaker right there. If I'm depressed, the last thing I need is to make me think about suicide. Feb 20, 2017 at 20:37
  • @MontyHarder To be honest, my answer was added somewhat in jest. Depression is a severely complicated issue and everyone's chemical balance is different. One medication can work miracles for one person yet wreak havoc on another; hence why there are countless brands to choose from. It is comparable to how a certain foods are tasty to one person yet a different person is repulsed by the flavor.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Feb 20, 2017 at 20:44
  • And yet I've never seen an ad for presumably-tasty food with a disclaimer "side effects may include nausea, dry heaves, and/or projectile vomiting" even though I'm pretty sure those have been among my reactions to alleged "foods" I've eaten. Just a matter of time until the lawyers get around to it, I suppose. Feb 20, 2017 at 22:20
  • I don't think this really fits the example situations. Too medicine-oriented (although it can be used in other ways: One side effect of barbed wire was the end of cattle drives). It doesn't directly reflect the "opposite-ness" that I'm looking for.
    – miltonaut
    Feb 21, 2017 at 13:59


The cobra effect occurs when an attempted solution to a problem actually makes the problem worse.

The term cobra effect stems from an anecdote set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.[3] The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.



I got 8 hours of sleep but I'm more tired than when I went to sleep. That's so illogical.

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