Russian language is rich with expressions that have become so commonplace today that it is difficult to find their origins. Some are more easily identified as they come from our traditional folk tales. As the following one: more harm than good.
“Медвежья услуга” (More harm than good). This idiom finds its origin in one of Ivan Krylov‘s fable “Пустынник и медведь” (The Hermit and the Bear), published in 1808.
Басня (the fable) tells us the story of пустынник (an hermit) медведь (a bear). The hermit mainly wants to rest, meditate and sleep, and the bear offers him to chase away the flies.
From the beginning of the tale, we understand that “the pass to hell is paved with good intentions” and that the bear’s help will render a bigger disservice than help.
Хотя услуга нам при жизни дорога,
Но за неё не всяк умеет взяться;
Не дай бог с дураком связаться!
Услужливый дурак опаснее врага.
Even if in troubled hours, we much seek kindness.
Not everyone will soar to friendship’s duties;
God forbid us to contact a fool!
An obliging fool is more dangerous than an enemy.
And to demonstrate the rightness of those verses, we read that the bear was dutifully chasing the flies away, but one kept on coming back on and on. So the bear decided to wait until the fly rests on the forehead of the hermit, and with the help of a large stone squashed the fly and the hermit’s head.
And this is how the citation from this fable became an expression deeply rooted in our everyday life. It is usually used to resume a situation when a person, wishing to help someone else, brings more trouble. But we should not forget that what brings people to render these “Медвежья услуга” (bear services) is first of all kindness and good intentions.