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Is there a conventional metaphor or phrase that just hits this meaning:good-looking yet useless?

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4  
"Eye candy" springs to mind. Often though not always used to imply uselessness. –  Rupe May 27 at 10:12
2  
"Eye candy" sounds like viewing a physically attractive person as a sexual object (when used by either sex.) For an actual object, I think "trinket" is the best fit here. –  steveverrill May 27 at 13:17
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@steveverrill I learned the term "eye candy" in terms of computer graphics, UI (e.g., the shiny bits of OS X interface), and ornate set studios. I learned about the "physically attractive person" interpretation when I used it in describing a film (with stunning buildings) to my parents and got some strange looks in response. Ever since, I've wondered if there's a specific usage of the term within the tech/internet world that doesn't really touch on the "physically attractive person" meaning. –  Joshua Taylor May 27 at 15:16
    
The answer may be different depending on whether the object was supposed to be useful or not.... –  keshlam May 27 at 15:19
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@steveverrill Well, who knows about being more innocent, but my point is that the term, in certain circles (computer graphics, user interface, etc.), doesn't seem to have any of the connotation of "sexually attractive individual," whereas in other circles, it has almost only that connotation. –  Joshua Taylor May 28 at 11:44

13 Answers 13

up vote 32 down vote accepted

I would simply go with the word ornament. Decorative and serving no real purpose otherwise.

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2  
+1 Good point. Improve your answer with more supporting information. –  Kris May 27 at 11:13
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...and likewise decoration, for much the same meaning. –  user568458 May 27 at 11:26
    
I think a difference between "ornament" and "decoration" is that and ornament is most likely to be an object (as requested) wheras a decoration is not necessarily an object. –  GreenAsJade May 28 at 4:43
    
-1 from me. It may not assert any usefulness but neither does it imply a lack of it. –  Rupe May 28 at 13:50
    
@Rupe If something is described as "purely ornamental" that surely emphasises it has no practical utility? –  Martin Smith May 29 at 19:31

Consider ornament, which principally means:

(n) a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose

From: New Oxford American Dictionary

An object that's aesthetically pleasing and completely useless can be described as ornamental.

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Eye candy: "a slang term for attractiveness"

(US, idiomatic) Any object or sight with considerable visual appeal. The computer graphics added lots of eye candy to that movie.

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Of a person

Bimbo

Webster's: "an attractive but stupid woman"

Beautiful fool

To my knowledge this is a reference to The Great Gatsby meaning a woman who is pretty yet blissfully ignorant. Perhaps it predates that?

Plastic

Webster's: "not real or sincere" [i.e., superficial, malleable]

Arm candy

Webster's: "a young attractive person who accompanies a usually older person at social events"

Trophy Wife/Husband

Slang: a spouse who is valued for superficial reasons.

Of an object

Bauble

Webster's: "something of trifling appeal" [lacking in significance or solid worth, frivolous]

Trinket

Webster's: "a piece of jewelry or an ornament that has little value" [therefore shiny, aesthetically pleasing... not useful]

Ornament

Webster's: "something that lends grace or beauty" [Webster's example sentence reads: "The columns are there purely as ornament—they have no structural function."]

Tchotchke

Dictionary.com: Syn for Oranment, Trinket


Clearly these aren't all perfect fits as they stand by themselves, but given the proper context they could all be used to convey a sense of useless splendor.

Edit: I removed a couple that would have required more finesse to work into the context.

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2  
What do each of these words mean? Why do you think they might suit the OP's need? What is source of the list? –  Kris May 27 at 11:15
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The source of this list is my brain. I will edit in definitions. –  Preston Fitzgerald May 27 at 11:21
    
I don't think any of the "of an object" list are necessarily aesthetically pleasing or decorative except "ornament". Possibly "bauble" too, but in UK English it refers to one very specific type of decoration usually used on Christmas trees. –  user568458 May 27 at 11:24
    
I agree @user568458. Added a note to make this concession. We'd need more context to form a proper sentence. I was just getting us close. –  Preston Fitzgerald May 27 at 11:48
    
lol @ top 3 answers all with the same word. Jinx! –  Preston Fitzgerald May 27 at 11:50

Consider embellishment, veneer, gloss, and window dressing.

window dressing: anything used or done to create a good impression

gloss, veneer: a superficially attractive appearance

embellishment, also embellisher: an ornament

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I would suggest Knickknack. It is quite close to the word Ornament but it has a more friendly ring to it.

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Whilst it might not apply, you may potentially use a phrase such as 'Form over function' I suppose, to indicate that the look of the object outweighs its usefulness.

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In vernacular English, "dust collector". Something which just sits there, does nothing, and has to be cleaned semi-regularly to remove the dust which settles upon it. Also implies something of low value:

  • When commenting about Aunt Amelia's extensive collection of floppy-eared rabbit dust collectors Uncle Wilmer often said philosophically, "Well, they keep her happy - and the durn things didn't cost much...".

Share and enjoy.

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I'm not sure that a "dust collector" has the meaning of "good looking". Generally, dust-collectors would junk, wouldn't they? –  GreenAsJade May 27 at 23:40
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"Aesthetically pleasing" is in the eye of the beholder. Aunt Amelia might find her collection of floppy-eared bunny statuary (in a variety of amusing and picturesque poses) quite pleasing, aesthetically-wise speaking - but Uncle Wilmer might not. –  Bob Jarvis May 28 at 0:15
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Sure - but it is not about whether a particular thing is pleasing to me or you. The question is whether if you say to me "dust collector" are you communicating "aesthetically pleasing". If I said that to you, I would not be. I am questioning your assertion that "dust collector" is a phrase that means "aesthetically pleasing", which is what the question asks for. –  GreenAsJade May 28 at 4:33

Such aesthetically pleasing objects which have no use can usually be found on mantlepieces or knick-knack shelves in kitchens. They may be figurines, small statues, etc. They are known as 'dust-catchers' because that is the only purpose they serve.

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Gold plated turd - something that is essentially useless but has a layer of gloss to make up for it.

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I offer gimcrack. As defined by Meriam-Webster [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gimcrack]: a showy object of little use or value.

Also gewgaw at the same reference.

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I have to down-vote this answer. The question asks for a "conventional metaphor". Both of these suggestions are quite archaic today, and by no means conventional. Most people would probably not know what you were talking about if you used them, and those who did would probably be chuckling to themselves... –  Vector May 30 at 7:31

"Fluff" is often used in such manner: "The fancy looking bumper on that car is just fluff."

"For show" is also a very common colliquilism that exactly express your idea: "That window display is just for show. They don't stock any of those items."

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Or perhaps you would like, adornment? their very use is purely to be good looking. O Ornamentation as well. Their very use is defined only as their good looks.

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