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In German, the term "Kiste", literally meaning "box", is often used as a colloquial derogatory term for electronic and mechanical devices.

It is comparable to "jalopy", which, however, seems to be restricted to automobiles (according to dict.cc).

Is there a comparable term one can put into the following sentences?

I am lucky if this [term for desktop computer] boots without blue screen of death.

Most times this [term for TV set] shows nothing but snow.

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6  
I guess piece of … would be too generic? –  slhck Mar 1 '13 at 13:47
    
Hey, box is perfectly usable in your examples. –  Mr Lister Mar 1 '13 at 14:03
    
Is "piece of" a generic way to express contempt? Like "piece of TV", "piece of car" or "piece of computer"? I have not been aware of that. –  shuhalo Mar 1 '13 at 14:03
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@MετάEd Well, no, I guess I can say "shit" in a question asking for derogatory terms, but I was implying that there are other words you could use, such as "crap". –  slhck Mar 1 '13 at 14:35
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Using "box" to refer to computers colloquially is more commonly an affectionate term used by enthusiasts than a derogatory one in English slang. –  Affe Mar 1 '13 at 19:17

10 Answers 10

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Piece of junk refers to something that is cheap, shoddy, or worthless. It can be used as an oject as in "This piece of junk won't boot." or a modiying adjective as in "This piece-of-junk computer won't boot" (with or without hyphens).

Related adjectives can be used with the name of the device. These include:

"Junky", "shoddy", "trashy", "lousy", "worthless", "crappy" (oh, and, of course, "shitty").

Boat Anchor which merely means the device is only suitable for that purpose. "This computer has become a boat anchor" (Urban Dictionary, definitions 2 and 3, Ham.net shows the term used in practice.)

Doorstop similar to "boat anchor". "This computer only works as a door stop now."

Junk Box No longer suitable for anything except to be cannibalized for spare parts. (See wikipedia.) Usually this refers to just the parts themselves, already disassembled and collected into a box. But it parallels your German reference, so I thought it was worth adding.

We also refer to some things as "hangar queens", which is alludes to aircraft that spend more time in repair than they do in service. Any products that can't get through the production process may be relegated to being hangar queens, with hopes that someone will eventually figure out how to repair them.

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"Expensive paperweight" –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 3 '13 at 11:39

Contraption (often paired as infernal contraption) refers to any mechanical or electronic device for which the author has some contempt.

Gizmo can similarly be employed to mock some needless or useless technological contrivance, but it is not inherently negative. I can call something a gizmo to suggest I am overwhelmed by its complexity, or simply because I don't remember its name. Similarly, other generic terms like gadget or widget (for a part of a larger machine or device) are not inherently negative.

There are a variety of ways to disrespect a car or other large mechanical machine: jalopy, rust bucket, beater, or clunker.

There are also words and phrases for televisions, but these emphasize dislike for the medium of television itself as represented by the device, not the device itself: idiot box and boob tube. You could say I'm spending a mindless Saturday night in front of the boob tube, but you wouldn't say I hate my old boob tube, I need to get it replaced.

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Gizmo? Mogwai! (So, I wouldn't usually use it as you suggest. Although I agree it is valid) –  Izkata Mar 1 '13 at 21:33
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darkwingduck.wikia.com/wiki/Gizmoduck is "popular and well-liked" as well. –  choster Mar 1 '13 at 22:49
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Contrary to @Izkata, I think gizmo is an excellent word in this context. Maybe it's a US/UK difference, but some flash gizmo usually implies a disparaging reference to a small, electronic device to me, whereas a bucket of bolts is much bigger and more "mechanical" (e.g. - a car). –  FumbleFingers Mar 1 '13 at 23:05
    
doodad implies the gadget or feature in question is superficial or trivial -- also that the speaker might not be able to remember its name –  Alex Chaffee Mar 2 '13 at 14:49
    
Contraption is better than gizmo, but contraption usually refers to complex mechanical devices and I'm not sure how well it naturally extends to electronic devices –  Russell S. Pierce Mar 2 '13 at 15:21

Paper weight Implies that it is good for nothing other than holding paper in place.

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While often used to describe, as you say, jalopies, bucket of bolts can also be used to refer to machinery:

(idiomatic) A piece of machinery that is not worth more than its scrap value, often of old cars.

Other candidates that you can consider are contraption and its synonyms. However, they are not necessarily uncomplimentary. Most people would probably use something along the lines of junk or piece of [x] where x can be replaced with junk, crap, shit, etc.

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"Hunka junk" (slang for hunk of junk) has the added attraction of being alliterative so it feels good saying it:

"Most times this "hunka junk" shows nothing but snow!"

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You could describe an outdated or large, clunky gadget (especially mobile phones) as a "brick". This term can also be used as a verb to describe the act of breaking a piece of technology so as to make it essentially useless:

I tried to format my hard drive but ended up bricking the entire machine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_(electronics)

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Solid term, but the definition is a little off - bricked implies a state of worthlessness due to an attempt to reconfigure or update a device, rather than its size or age. See your own linked wikipedia article. –  Hannele Mar 1 '13 at 19:31

clunker
demon-posessed ___
brick
paper-weight
defective
___
old ___
ancient
___
piece of garbage / trash
god-forsaken ___
evil
___
sassn frassn ____
doorstop

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Gadget is rather diminutive...

"Hey I got a new smartphone!"
"Great, that is just what we need another gadget!"

and if a gadget doesn't work then it is a "brick"

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neither one works in your example sentences very well though. –  Grady Player Mar 1 '13 at 22:32

jalopy is a perfectly acceptable term for a part of a device that is no longer functional. One word that I use in Hibernian English: is the term, Flipping yoke. i.e. That flipping yoke is not working again. G** d**n it! Grrr etc, More expletives. Hope you enjoy it good night.

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My experience in the U.S. is that "jalopy" (if used at all, it's close to obsolete) specifically refers to an old car. I'd be very surprised to hear it used in reference to anything else. Is it common in Ireland? –  Jon of All Trades Mar 2 '13 at 15:06

Doohickey is close, although that might be more mechanical than electrical.

The OED says that it is:

Any small object, esp. mechanical; a ‘thingummy’ (see also quot. 1928).

  • 1914 Our Navy (U.S.) Nov. 12 - We were compelled to christen articles beyond our ken with such names as ‘do-hickeys’, ‘gadgets’ and ‘gilguys’.
  • 1925 Fraser & Gibbons Soldier & Sailor Words 81 - Doo hicky, an airman’s term for any small, detachable fitting.
  • 1928 Sunday Dispatch 30 Sept. 10/2 - He offered to run me down in the old doohicky-his latest, though second-hand car.
  • 1949 R. Chandler Little Sister vii. 45 - A pencil..broke its point on the glass doohickey under one of the desk legs.
  • 1967 A. Lurie Imaginary Friends iv. 44 - Just unhitch that dohickey there with a wrench.
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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 2 '13 at 1:45

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