Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Word of the Month: Der Bärendienst

Word of the Month: Index

A Bär is a bear (see my Word of the Month Seebär) and a Dienst is, in the present context, a service performed for somebody. A Bärendienst is a service that backfires—meant to benefit the recipient, it has the opposite effect; it may even turn out to be a disaster for the intended beneficiary.

Why connect a bear, among all creatures, to that type of action? There seems to be general agreement that the German term derives from La Fontaine’s fable L'Ours et l'amateur des jardins ("The Bear and the Garden Lover"). It tells the story of a lonely gardener and a lonely bear who become companions. The bear assists his friend in his work, and when the gardener takes a nap, the bear tries to ward off a bothersome fly. When all else fails, he picks up a paving stone and crushes the fly, which had settled on the gardener's nose. Alas, the blow also kills the gardener.


Heika said...

I love the word and it's really needed, since so often a friend who wants to help does exactly the wrong thing. But oh my heart goes out to the bear who was just trying to be a good friend. I guess my heart goes out to the gardener too but somehow I empathize more with the bear, bad as that sounds.

Ulrich said...

I must confess that my sympathies for the bear are more restrained.

Anyway, your reaction brings to mind an old German joke: When a boy was told the myth of Prometheus, how he was chained to a rock and visited by an eagle every day who took a bite out of his liver, the boy said, "Poor eagle--liver every day!"