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Sometimes we can hear or read of a "Verschlimmbesserung":

Schmidt bezeichnete Elena als Beispiel „für die schlimmste Verschlimmbesserung von Verfahren“. Was als Projekt zum Bürokratieabbau gedacht war, habe sich als völlig gegenteilig erwiesen.Focus

Der Jahrgangsclash ist nur der Auftakt an Verschlimmbesserungen, die das neue System mit sich bringt – und im Gegensatz zu den restlichen ist es eine einmalige.taz

Die Mehrheit hielt aber nichts davon. Es handle sich um eine «Verschlimmbesserung» gegenüber der Version des Ständerates mit dem Infrastrukturfonds, sagte Christian Wasserfallen (Bern, fdp.).NZZ

From my understanding the meaning of "Verschlimmbesserung" is the worsening of something by trying to make it better. However the exact meaning and usage is somewhat unclear. Given that newspapers frequently use this term in quotes may indicate that it is a colloquial term rather than good style. But is that true?

Duden gives us an uncomprehensible definition of both usage, and meaning by saying

Bedeutungen:
1. das Verschlimmbessern; das Verschlimmbessertwerden
2. Ergebnis einer Verschlimmbesserung (1)

Other than my impression that these explanations are a "Verschlimmbesserung" by themselves I do not learn anything about usage or meaning (e.g. I have never heard of a "das Verschlimmbessertwerden").

Is there anything known on who invented "Verschlimmbesserung", or what grammatical rules allowed us to build such a word? Is "Verschlimmbesserung" a mere colloquial term or may it be accepted when used in a written conversation or essay?

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I strongly object to your first example! ;) –  elena Jan 26 '12 at 12:07
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In general, Duden is not a good source for definitions... –  Oli Jan 27 '12 at 10:03
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1 Answer

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I love this word, but Verschlimmbessertwerden is a linguistical disaster.

You should never use it in an essay or any official documents. Instead rephrase your sentence, saying that the intention was to make it better, but the is result worse. I know there are many people who see the word Verschlimmbesserung as a Verschlimmbesserung ;p Or to say it in a different way: There are people who think this word is horrible.

Best synonym to take, just simple: Verschlechterung

Reserve Verschlimmbesserung for your colloquial use, especially in a humor sense. Also keep on the second meaning from Duden. It's the result of wanna-be enhancement. The act itself is rarely describe as Verschlimmbesserung.

Google Ngram Viewer does not find the word ;p

Not being asked, but interesting:
There are discussions on LEO how to translate it. And dict.cc also includes translations for Verschlimmbesserung in its database:

English definition on thefreedictionary: Reduction from a better to a worse state.

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@Gigili You haven't improved for the worse, so there is no need of reverting. Thanks for adding the links. I should have done this before, but omitted. –  Em1 Jan 26 '12 at 14:37
    
Verschlimmbesserung is a totally aceptable word in any context. The emphasis is on the not fullfilled promise to improve something and even worsening it. Verschlechterung is more neutral and may refer to exogenous factors leading to the degradation. –  Oli Jan 27 '12 at 10:06
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