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A disservice is an act for someone / something that is done with good intent and (nonetheless) has bad consequences for the person / thing.

The associated phrase “doing someone / something a disservice” is probably an older Eastern, Northern and Central European metaphor , because the bear was already considered untamable in the Middle Ages, so that it seemed unsuitable as a workhorse. In the western world it could have been conveyed through a fable by the French poet Jean de La Fontaine , first published in 1678.

La Fontaine's fable

Illustration by Gustave Doré

In L'ours et l'amateur des jardins (Eng: the bear and the gardening friend ) a bear and an old gardening friend meet, both lonely and looking for company. They decide to live together and everyone goes about their business: the bear procures game and the gardener looks after his garden. One day a fly sits on the sleeping old man's face. The bear wants to help his friend and chase the fly away by throwing a large stone at her. Neither the fly nor the old man survive.

Extract from L'ours et l'amateur des jardins

Un jour que le Vieillard dormoit d'un profond somme,
Sur le bout de son nez une <mouche> allant se placer
With l'Ours au désespoir; il eut beau la chasser.
«Je t'attraperai bien, dit-il; et voici comme. »
Aussitôt fait que dit: le fidèle émoucheur
Vous empoigne un pavé, le lance avec roideur,
Casse la tête à l'Homme en écrasant la mouche;
Et non moins bon archer que mauvais raisonneur,
Raide mort étendu on the place il le couche.
Rien n'est si dangereux qu'un ignorant ami;
Mieux vaudroit un say ennemi.

Translation by Ernst Dohm

One day he saw our old man lying in a deep slumber
and a fly that crawls on his nose;
he rages because he chases her away in vain.
“Just wait!” He exclaims. "And how do I want to get you!"
No sooner said than done: look, the fly master gathers
'A cobblestone you throw up, throw it full of strength,
crushed the old man's head to chase away the fly,
and has - a good contactor, alone extremely poor
as a thinker - beat him to death on the spot.
Nothing brings us so much danger as a stupid friend;
far better is a wise enemy.

Conceptual environment

A term similar to disservice is the lichas service, which comes from Greek mythology . In the Herakles saga, Lichas is the servant of Heracles who - believing that he is doing him a favor - brings the shirt of the centaur Nessus on the instructions of his wife Deianeira . This is soaked with the horse-man's blood contaminated by the poison of the hydra and causes the wearer the most severe torment. Lichas, who does not know this, hands the Nessus shirt to Heracles in the belief that he is doing this a favor - and thus conjures up his downfall (Ovid: Metamorphoses IX, 211).

Web links

Wiktionary: disservice  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations