By Ida

2013-07-29 02:14:42 8 Comments

I want to say "someone (or something) intends to help, but instead it makes things worse". Is there any succinct expression or phrase for this?



@Leandro 2020-03-17 09:37:28

"Do more harm than good." That's it.

@Edwin Ashworth 2020-03-17 11:29:04

If you add a supporting reference instead of 'That's it,', you'll possibly get more upvotes.

@Thomas Bonds 2017-06-26 17:29:40

Not sure if this has been answered or not, but I just searched for the same thing and found a solution which I believe would work. The phrase would be "the Cobra effect", you can read more about it here.

@Andrew Leach 2017-06-26 17:35:18

Welcome to ELU. You can probably see whether this question has been answered already. However, there's nothing stopping adding another answer. When answering, please don't just link to an explanation: we'll lose it if the target article goes AWOL (perhaps because the link format changes when they reorganise the blog). Summarise in your own words as well.

@user1778602 2017-02-24 20:24:48

(poorly?) translated from Albanian you could use

Take out the eye instead of plucking the eyebrows

Its used when you try to do some improvement, ex. pluck the eyebrows but end up doing (serious) damage instead (poke out the eyes)

Original at

Në vend që t'i vinte vetulla, i nxori sytë

@Hank 2017-02-24 20:47:24

What is the meaning of said phrase? Can you provide a link to the original source, even if it is a different language?

@Michael Bueltel 2016-04-02 00:17:14

I use the term white knight or white knighting. We had an employee that wanted to impress our managers. So he thought that if he went and meticulously cleaned his area, he would get noticed. But he became the buffoon, getting in trouble because his area was devoid of product. Due to him taking all that time to clean. The white knight rides to the rescue, but his armor is so shiny that it blinds his damsel in distress and she falls off the cliff.

@steveOw 2015-02-08 17:52:40

We considered switching to microsoft but that would have been like trying to put out fires with gasoline.

@Erik Kowal 2014-04-16 19:35:31

There's another proverbial saying that describes this situation, except that here the fallout often rebounds on the helper rather than on the person helped:

"No good deed goes unpunished".

Nor should one forget the proverbial law of unintended consequences.

@bib 2013-07-29 13:35:54

You could say that his efforts backfired

(of a plan) to have the opposite result from the one you intended: Some hotel owners worry that the idea of attracting more visitors may backfire and make the place less attractive.

@jiggunjer 2015-02-09 08:09:55

Note that backfired can also be used in the opposite of the phrase: when harm is intended good happens instead. So you might still need to add that the efforts were a well-intentioned endeavour. Also backfired implies an opposite effect, e.g. poisoned instead of healed. But an attempt to heal may go awry in many other ways.

@Daniel Brady 2013-07-29 04:14:01

I've always thought that the phrase "he/she means well" is rather loaded with the implication you describe. I find that it is usually used in defense of someone's faults, and is often followed by some description of the fault being defended, so this might not accomplish exactly what you want.

An adjective version of this phrase, "well-intentioned" or "well-intended", can be used alone or in combination with a negative trait to accomplish this implication.

For example, you might say that a young boy who enjoys helping his grandmother wash the dishes but often breaks an article of china is "well-intentioned but clumsy".

@FumbleFingers 2013-07-29 03:05:29

156,000 written instances of...

more of a hindrance than a help

probably make that the most common way to express this sentiment.

@Pieter Geerkens 2013-07-29 02:16:35

How about "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

@Ida 2013-07-29 03:08:06

Thanks, but this sounds a bit formal. Is there any less formal expressions?

@TrevorD 2013-07-29 11:07:29

-1 That proverb has a completely [different meaning[(…): The meaning of the phrase is that individuals may have the intention to undertake good actions but nevertheless fail to take action. But the question here is about someone who does take action, but with unintended consequences.

@Pieter Geerkens 2013-07-29 11:27:54

And continue reading that article to find: "A different interpretation of the saying that is sometimes found, is that good intentions, when acted upon, may have unforeseen bad consequences"

@Edwin Ashworth 2017-03-06 00:53:13

@TrevorD But Macmillan has << The road to hell is paved with good intentions.: used for saying that people often make a situation much worse when they intended to make it better. >> And Wiktionary has << Well-intended acts can lead to disasters. >> Though other authorities agree with the definition you give, I wouldn't presume to say 'That proverb has [only] a completely different meaning.'

@Edwin Ashworth 2020-03-17 11:21:53

... But please be aware that at least one supporting reference should really accompany the answer.

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