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.
5 hours ago