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Most of us have these little things we are able to do, that are a little different or special. Maybe it is something we mostly use in laid-back social situations, to break the ice and get a laugh. Beyond that, however, this talent does not do much for us. It is clearly not anything we would ever list on a resume. What might you call it?


Intended use:

Mike's family knew he was finally recovering from his injuries when he resumed his _______ of turning everything into a corny pun, which made his nurses laugh.

Another possible use:

Alice: (sticking out tongue and touching it to tip of nose) Tada!

Bob: Wow. Impressive.

Alice: Thanks, but I know that with this _______ and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee.


Candidates considered:

Hobby: On the contrary, your hobby can be of tremendous benefit to you. It is fun for you, releives your stress, and lets you have a sense of accomplishment. (reject)

Antic(s): For me, this has too much of a connotation that you only do the thing to create havoc or to tease another person. (near-miss)

Trick: In the absence of other options, this is what I might go with. However, this still doesn't quite sound right when I read it back. (debatable near-miss).

Despite this, feel free to propose any of these as answers if you can cite definitions and usage examples that refute my objections.


Final word: This is tagged with both and . All things being equal, a single word will win. However, where a short multi-word phrase tells the story better than one word, then so be it.

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+1 Well researched. – NVZ Mar 9 at 14:35
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Useless talent? reddit.com/r/LearnUselessTalents – ermanen Mar 9 at 15:12
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Nowadays, getting a cup of coffee for a dollar would be the big trick there! – Kevin Mar 9 at 17:49
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My useless talent is posting upvoteable comments on Stack Exchange questions. – user568458 Mar 10 at 9:23
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Antics is fine: "foolish, outrageous, or amusing behavior." It does not mean shenanigans : "silly or high-spirited behavior; mischief." (both from Google) – Mazura Mar 10 at 16:58

12 Answers 12

up vote 61 down vote accepted

Perhaps an English term borrowed from Yiddish, schtick (or shtick, or shtik)

A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention: waiters in tropical attire are part of the restaurant's shtick.

American Heritage Dictionary

The term is often applied to a comedian's signature style or routine.

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I have never heard this used in the UK. – Ian Mar 9 at 17:42
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@Ian Depends where you live and who you mix with. I've heard it plenty of times – Avrohom Yisroel Mar 9 at 18:07
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As @CaptainCranium suggests in his answer, the term schtick "generally connotes something like a trademark behaviour that pretty much anyone could reproduce... but they would just look like cheap imitators." – gfullam Mar 9 at 18:24
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IMO, while valid, I think it is reasonable to wonder if the idiom would be equally accessible in other forms of english. I seriously doubt that in english speaking countries with no jewish culture prevalence this word is even known. – Joum Mar 10 at 17:20
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@Joum While I cannot speak to its use in other countries, the term has wide acceptance in the US, even in locales with limited numbers of people of Jewish background. – bib Mar 10 at 17:36

I'm not sure it matches your first example, but I feel it matches your description and second example, I'd suggest party trick.

Oxford Dictionaries describes it as

A trick such as might be performed at a party for entertainment; an unusual act regarded as one's speciality.

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Hey... I'm a (UK) child of the 60s, and I'll support your support for 'party trick' as an informal thing that works as a signature. – Captain Cranium Mar 9 at 14:36
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@FumbleFingers... The term 'party piece' tends to mean something practised and relatively formal, e.g. being able to whistle 'The Star Spangled Banner' while somersaulting backwards through a hoop. A 'party trick' is more like dislocating both shoulders and climbing into a washing machine. – Captain Cranium Mar 9 at 14:39
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@FumbleFingers No. These two usages are different. – Captain Cranium Mar 9 at 14:57
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@FumbleFingers You are using the word 'party' to confuse two things. Your graph shows the increasing availability of both expressions over time. That does not help the OP. A party piece (e.g. a recital of music or poetry, or a bit of ice-sculpting or wardrobe-climbing) is selected to impress family, patrons, sponsors, etc.. A party trick, on the other hand, is a weird thing that you can do. This is what the OP is asking about. Casual access to irrelevant online stats has nothing to do with real usage. If you can do that with your eyes shut, however, then that would count as a party trick. – Captain Cranium Mar 9 at 15:44
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Just to add a little more sourcing to @CaptainCranium’s position, the full OED (subscription-only, unfortunately) agrees that party piece and party trick are related but not the same: Party trick n. a trick such as might be performed at a party for entertainment; an unusual act regarded as one's speciality; cf. party piece n. // Party piece n. a piece of music or other act performed by a person on a special occasion; an unusual trick, feat, etc., for which one is renowned; cf. party trick n. – PLL Mar 12 at 14:23

What do you think about gimmick? Though not always something that you do, a gimmick has the connotation of being a feature which superficially attracts attention or but has no real or practical value.

gimmick (n)

a method or trick that is used to get people's attention or to sell something

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Although not exactly something one might do (at least not always willingly), I think quirk fits your description:

a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality; mannerism;

in dictionary.com

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I know there is already an accepted answer, but knack might fit.

Mike's family knew he was finally recovering from his injuries when he resumed his knack of turning everything into a corny pun, which made his nurses laugh.

In Alice's case, she would have a knack for performing odd physical feats.

m-w definition

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But suppose Bob has a knack for fixing bugs in computer programs. It could be highly beneficial to him. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 11 at 3:08
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This strikes me as the most neutral descriptor, in contrast to gift/aptitude (positive) or shtick/peculiarity/gimmick/routine (which can be interpreted as slightly negative i.e. 'played out') – mac splean Mar 11 at 22:38

Referencing the movie Planet Terror, I would use "useless talent". Which seems also adopted by Reddit, but certainly not by any dictionary.

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As with many words, the tone used may be all that's needed to convey some sarcastic disrespect for that talent. I don't think there exists a single-word that implies a useless talent (and having the ability to make people laugh is never a wasted effort!).

The "Shtick" to me implies a routine for comedic effect - not neccessarily just a physical capacity.

So I'd probably just go with any of the synonyms for "talent"

gift

aptitude.

hmm.... how about: "peculiarity", implying an odd characteristic?

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My instinctive response (as explained in related comments) was party trick, meaning a fairly personal ability that others would find hard to replicate. Farting the alphabet, say, or reciting an obscure novel backwards.

(The term 'party piece', which some seem to think equivalent, refers to much more competitive acts to impress, related to reproducible repertoire.)

On the other hand, if the act in question is primarily one of memorable self-promotion then the term shtick can apply. That generally connotes something like a trademark behaviour that pretty much anyone could reproduce... but they would just look like cheap imitators. Examples would include Tommy Cooper's shrugging 'Juz like that', or Steve Martin's arrow through the head.

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This seems to be a restatement of the other two preexisting answers. – stannius Mar 9 at 16:32
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@stannius Not at all. My post-in-progress was delayed by someone arguing about something from trivial opinion. Here, I offered a succinct comparison, with examples, of two complementary ideas bearing on OP's actual question, with a sidelight on a potential distraction. I am happy that others have also mentioned those ideas individually, and I would have retired my post entirely if I had thought that existing contributions had entirely overtaken this one. – Captain Cranium Mar 9 at 18:11

Though Party Trick or Party Piece fits the description well, they don't quite fit the examples completely naturally.

You could use 'routine' in the examples to great effect.

Routine - noun

6 - an individual act, performance, or part of a performance, as a song or dance, given regularly by an entertainer: a comic routine; a dance routine.

www.dictionary.com

Though the dictionary definition given above fairly strongly references an actual act or performance, the term is also very commonly used to imply a contrived action performed by someone as if it was an act or performance in the classic sense of the word. Something of a synonym for 'party trick' and 'schtick'.

E.g. Alice: Thanks, but I know that with this routine and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee

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A word that sprang to my mind is specialty.

While this words is often used in serious contexts, such as medicine, mathematics, or cooking, it can also be used tongue-in-cheek to refer to such "talents" as you allude to:

Mike resumed his specialty of turning everything into a corny pun, which made his nurses laugh.

With this specialty and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee.

Those seem like fairly acceptable usages (especially the first one). As for other places where I've seen the word used in a similar fashion, I found some interesting quotes:

My specialty is detached malevolence.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who also quipped: "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."

My specialty is two things: music or really strange stories.

Malik Bendjelloul, filmmaker and director

My specialty is sticking my heart in places that it doesn’t belong.

A blogger named Elly

Practical jokes were his specialty. Even as a small child, he had delighted in trickery and as he grew up, the jokes became more sophisticated.

From the book Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by S. Dreyfus and J. Assange

And of course, the classic last line of The Open Window by Saki:

Romance at short notice was her specialty.

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Impetuous downvoting is someone's specialty... – J.R. Mar 14 at 8:44

Although such activities would seem to fit in Oxford Dictionary’s second definition of a “diversion":
“An activity that diverts the mind from tedious or serious concerns; a recreation or pastime: ‘our chief diversion was reading’,”

“diversion” would not, however, work well in either of your examples.
(on the other hand, although “habit” would “sound good” at least in your first example, it wouldn’t be fitting at all for the notion that you seek)

Working from the above sense #2 of “diversion,” however, I think “sideshow” could capture the general notion you seek and could work in both of your examples as well:

“Mike … resumed his sideshow of …”

“…with this sideshow and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee.”

sideshow
: a minor show offered in addition to a main exhibition (as of a circus [or resume?])
2 : an incidental diversion or spectacle
(from ‘Merriam-Webster)

(example of “sideshow” used as a “[impromptu] comedy routine” found in ‘Letters from My Sister: On Life, Love and Hair Removal’ by Eve Lederman, Faye Lederman at ‘Google Books’)

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Affectation -can mean an adopted way of speaking or behaving, implies an attitude deliberately assumed in order to impress others.

Example:

Bob's silly French accent is just an affectation.

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"Thanks, but I know that with this affectation and a dollar I can get a cup of coffee"? I don't think that fits into the example sentences in the question. – sumelic Mar 11 at 1:49

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