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Word of the Week: Schlimmbesserung

In today’s world, we constantly try to improve our quality of life through technological innovation. But sometimes, these “improvements” have unforeseen consequences. Germans have a word for this kind of situation: Schlimmbesserung or Verschlimmbesserung.

(Ver)Schlimmbesserung is a noun describing an intended improvement that has an opposite effect. When someone tries to make things better but ends up making them worse, that’s a Schlimmbesserung.

The word comes from schlimm (“bad” or “malicious”) and Besserung (“improvement”) and it has been around since medieval times. Can you think of a Schlimmbesserung in your life?

An example of a modern Schlimmbesserung is the invention of cars with airbags to save lives, only to end up with airbags that kill passengers instead. Here, the intention was to improve car safety; instead, some models ended up with airbags that were so powerful that they were a danger themselves.

But the term Schlimmbesserung can also take on a more personal nature. Let’s say you’re trying to comfort a friend who is going through a breakup. You give her a box of hazelnut chocolates to comfort her. After consuming the chocolate, she has a serious allergic reaction and ends up hospitalized. This is a Schlimmbesserung.

Despite your best intentions, sometimes a Schlimmbesserung is unavoidable; it’s not always easy to foresee the outcome.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

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