Thursday, November 21, 2013


English has borrowed the German oxymoron "Schadenfreude" with a bit of schadenfreude of its own: "It takes the Germans to come up with a word like that!"

Here's another German oxymoron that English needs to steal: "Verschlimmbesserung," literally, "worse-bettering." This is when you try to improve something but just make it worse. So next time you come across this phenomenon, use this German word to refer to it: "That's typical verschlimmbesserung!" Or "he verschlimmbessered my article with his prescriptivist editing!"


Donald Brown said...

I wonder if to some extent this idea is covered by the American phrase "ass backward." "He tried to fix the motor but it got it ass backward."

Andrew Shields said...

There was a Language Log post recently about the use of "ass" in that way, and in other, related ways.