I'm a software developer and I'm continually faced with efforts on the part of other developers to "improve" software that I'm involved in maintaining. But from my point of view, often the things they do have the opposite effect on the software.

There is no truly apropos word. "Impoverished" isn't right. "Transform" isn't either. Neither is "transmogify". I need some really much stronger version of "deprove."

  • "Worsen" isn't really the right word, because that kind of implies that the software was bad to begin with. The reality is a worse tragedy than that, because the software was perfectly good before!
  • "Destroy" isn't really right, because the software still exists. So the reality is actually worse tragedy than that, because now we have this awful software to contend with. If they'd "destroyed" it, we could build something as good or better.
  • "Tainted" isn't really right, because that implies it's mostly still perfectly good, it just has some small part of it that is bad, when the reality is that it is now entirely bad.

I need a single word for the act of taking something perfectly good and turning it into something awful. "Monstrousize"? "Frankenate"?

Hey, thanks so much for the responses!

Ok, I'm afraid I let my emotions run away with me and I asked this question badly.

What I'm actually looking for is a word that really functions as a direct opposite for "improve." A word that implies nothing about the initial state or the final state, but only implies something about the direction of the change.

"Ruin", "break", "spoil", etc., all kind of imply good things about the initial state and bad things about the final state. I'm looking for something like "worsen," but even "worsen" kind of implies that the state was bad to begin with. "It's condition was worsened by the changes" could be construed to imply that the condition wasn't great to begin with. "Improve" doesn't imply that the initial state was good or bad, it just comments on the direction of the change.

  • Have you read Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code? If so, which code smells do your colleagues tend to introduce?
    – Jasper
    Nov 2, 2018 at 1:36
  • Thanks, that's great! Except I'm afraid I asked the question badly..
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:54
  • How about disimprove?
    – djna
    Nov 3, 2018 at 6:19
  • 1
    Fun fact: in German, there are two very common words, verbessern and verschlechtern. Verbessern literally is "make better" (besser), verschlechtern is "make worse" (schlechter). And then there is verschlimmbessern, which is probably exactly what you are thinking about: trying make something better, but inadvertently making it worse - and typically not even noticing that it got worse, and being proud of one's work. Isn't German poetical? Jun 17, 2020 at 13:19

6 Answers 6


I suggest 'degrade', e.g.

"Developers very often degrade the software when their intention is to improve it."

"Software decay is a key concern for large, long-lived software projects. Systems degrade over time as design and implementation compromises and exceptions pile up."

An Empirical Study of Design Degradation: How Software Projects Get Worse over Time https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7321186

In fact there is a humorous/sarcastic term commonly used by software developers but I can't remember it! I suggest you ask on a specialist computing site.

  • Degrade! Nice! I think that's the best answer so far (11/2/18 16:09 PST) to my ear, personally, although I guess I usually think of "degrade" as being more of a synonym for "deride" or an antonym for "praise" than an antonym for "improve", but I'm pretty sure it does have pretty much exactly that alternative meaning.
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 23:14

The word I'd suggest is ruin. Dictionaries list it as a synonym of "destroy" (which is true), but it's a bit more nuanced than that. In particular, what makes it good for the context you're describing is that ruining something doesn't have to obliterate it (although it can). It's also used to describe situations where something used to be good but is now bad. It's also used to describe situations where something is made significantly less enjoyable, such as when we say that a plot hole ruined a movie.

Some pretty good examples specifically about software are:

  • I need to edit or re-ask the question differently. "Ruin" implies something about the final state. I'm looking for a word that really functions as a direct antonym for "improve," which doesn't imply anything about the initial or final state but only implies something about the direction of the change. "Worsen" would be good, except that it kind of implies that it was bad to begin with.
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:57

"Mangle", "mess up", and "screw up" are appropriate in this context. "Screw up" is less polite than "mess up".

"Disimprove" might be the closest to an exact opposite of "improve". "Deprove" seems more like "removing a proof" than "make a negative improvement".

  • You know, I think I let my emotions run away with me and I asked the question very badly. What I'm actually looking for is a more direct antonym for "improve" other than "worsen." Something like "deprove." Maybe I should edit the question..
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:44
  • "Disimprove" is exactly right, but it's a little clunky and I don't think it's a real word?
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 18:11
  • @Shavais -- Yes, "disimprove" is clunky. I am surprised that the Collins dictionary thinks it is a real word. The spell checker for this comment thinks it is not "a real word". I think it is fine to use "disimprove", because people will immediately figure out what it means. English prefixes and suffixes can be nice that way.
    – Jasper
    Nov 2, 2018 at 18:15

I think the direct antonym to "improve" would be deteriorate. In the specific context of documenting software changes that make the software worse, other options could be hinder, harm, or depreciate. For a less formal term, you could also use nerf, which is common in gaming communities to describe reducing the power of a weapon, spell, ability, etc.

Function is deteriorated by these changes.

These changes are intended to improve the program, but they often hinder more than they help.

These changes are intended to improve the program, but often do more harm than good.

These changes are intended to improve the program, but often depreciate it instead.

These changes are intended to improve the program, but often nerf key features or performance instead.

  • 1
    "A thing deteriorates" is grammatically correct. "A thing is deteriorating" is also grammatically correct. But "A thing is deteriorated by something else" is not grammatically correct.
    – Jasper
    Nov 2, 2018 at 21:10
  • That could be a good answer, I'll give it an up vote. But I guess I think of "deteriorate" as being something which kind of happens over slowly over time and isn't necessarily the result of anything anyone does.
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 22:22
  • "is deteriorated by " seems to be grammatically correct. Example:We consider the preventive maintenance of a production system that is deteriorated by random shocks and the production process itself. source: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11518-010-5143-9
    – Crettig
    Nov 2, 2018 at 22:27

If you improve something, you make it better. The opposite of that would be to break something.

From among the many senses of Merriam-Webster's definition of break, are the following:

1 e : to render inoperable
// broke his watch
17 : to ruin the prospects of
// could make or break her career

As such, the software that used to work well could now considered to be broken in terms of practical usefulness..

  • I asked the question badly I should probably edit or re-ask it differently. "Break" implies that it was functioning before and no longer does, which isn't really what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for is more like "worsen," except that that kind of implies that it was bad to begin with. I'm looking for a word that makes no implication concerning the initial state or the final state other than that the final state is not as good as the initial state. Some word that really functions as a direct opposite to "improve."
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:53
  • @Shavais Break does not need to apply to the entire thing. It can apply to a specific function which no longer works or no longer works as well. The overall software still functions but not as well as before. Break is also used idiomatically to mean, "it's not as good as it used to be" and that it is "broken for me." Nov 2, 2018 at 18:09
  • My son “improved” his 50m freestyle time. Versus, my son (opposite of improve) his 50m freestyle time. Break is not the opposite of improve in this case and it closely resembles the situation the OP describes. Any suggestions?
    – CramerTV
    May 21, 2022 at 18:09

How about "spoil":

to cause damage to (something), in regard to its value, beauty, usefulness, etc


Now is the time for improving or spoiling herself.;

Here again the computer spoils things rather than helps.;

Apart from anything else, there is a risk of spoiling what we already have.

  • I think I asked the question badly. What I really want to find is a direct antonym for "improve." Spoil implies that there was value before that was entirely eliminated, which isn't actually what I'm looking for. I should probably edit the question.
    – Shavais
    Nov 2, 2018 at 17:47

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