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I was thinking "interchangeable", but isn't really used on people.

How do you describe someone who is easily replaced by another person. The implied connotation is that they have no inherent qualities that make them more suitable for the job than any of their peers, it is just a matter of selecting one of them at random to do it.

Example I wish to fill:

"I complained that I didn't want to be in the conference call so they had Joe do it. Feels awesome."

"Feels awesome to be [interchangeable]?"

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You might like this T shirt thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/generic/5b6f –  Wudang Sep 21 '11 at 18:53
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@Wudang: or this one: thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/popculture/9722 –  Martijn Sep 22 '11 at 8:08
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@Martijn this T-shirt suits the occasion, too: thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/frustrations/374d –  Agos Sep 22 '11 at 9:23
    
A toy soldier. –  Callithumpian Sep 22 '11 at 11:56
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Anything you like? –  Jodrell Sep 23 '11 at 13:16
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14 Answers

up vote 42 down vote accepted

I feel like I'm missing something, but easily replaceable or just replaceable seems like the obvious answer. Certainly, people are frequently referred to as irreplaceable when they're not easily replaced.

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Added a quote with the exact context to try and help things along. –  Alain Sep 21 '11 at 18:09
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Much as I like "fungible", I think it's obvious that yours is the obvious answer. Anything else is either going to be obscure/metaphoric, or will unduly emphasise the unwarranted connotations of low-value, insignificance. –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 21:40
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"Feels awesome to be replaceable?" is perfectly acceptable and in current use. As obvious as it stands, this is the right answer. –  ZJR Sep 22 '11 at 1:00
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This has to be the most "correct" answer –  Jodrell Sep 22 '11 at 12:13
    
I agree, substituting each suggested word into the above sentence, this one fares best. –  Alain Sep 22 '11 at 14:13
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Expendable is a term that comes close though not exact. It implies that the object can be abandoned after use.

It is often used to refer to objects of little significance as in:

The servant was expendable, master had to be saved.

It can imply that the servant is replaceable. This list notes replaceable as a synonym of expendable.

Substitutable can be another word with similar implications.

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I like this, I think it's the word I had in mind. –  Alain Sep 21 '11 at 18:00
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To me "expendable" is not the same as "replaceable" or "interchangable". Something that's expended might not be replaced if it's considered to be surplus (and being surplus might be the reason for it being expended). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sep 21 '11 at 19:44
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"You are not expendable, Rambo." –  oosterwal Sep 21 '11 at 21:22
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This isn't a great word choice. "Expendable" tends to have the connotation that the person could die. Additionally, nobody is happy to be expendable. –  jprete Sep 21 '11 at 22:23
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@jprete: As if someone is actually happy of being considered easily replaceable... –  Gurzo Sep 22 '11 at 7:48
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Dispensable is a great one. "Don't think you're indispensable. We can replace you."

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I believe this is a great alternative. +1 –  Ignacio Sep 22 '11 at 2:52
    
Yeah, it's not an exact synonym because you can of course dispense with a thing without replacing it; but it seems to have something of the connotation sought, so I thought I'd put it up. –  Ryan Sep 29 '11 at 17:24
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The word I might use is fungible.

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Another convert to the cause of fungibility! But so far I haven't gotten a single upvote for my attempt to introduce the word/concept to the wider world here at EL&U. I think it's a word ahead of its time! :) –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 21:34
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@FumbleFingers: I upvoted your use of the word. –  Tom Au Sep 21 '11 at 21:35
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... and I venture to suggest that any company lucky enough to have employees capable of using the word "fungible" in casual conversation would probably do well not to replace those people! –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 21:35
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@FumbleFingers:Please tell that to my boss. –  Tom Au Sep 22 '11 at 13:20
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Cog would be my preferred word (and I voted it up) but I've also heard the word "drone" used for a generic worker with no unique features. Also "grunt" borrowed from US military slang.

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In addition to the other suggestions, such people are sometimes referred to as "cogs" as in

I'm just another cog in this machine!

Where "machine" refers to some large impersonal organization that views its human resources as interchangeable components and that are individually replaceable.

This is because cogs in real machines are easily replaced and individual cogs (or other similar parts) really have no special inherent qualities that make them better than any other cog in the bag of spare parts.

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Cog primarily holds the connotation that the person is contributing only a small piece of a big picture. My impression is that a cog may or may not be someone who does something that there peers are incapable of doing - so not really synonymous with 'interchangeable'. –  Alain Sep 21 '11 at 19:03
    
If peers are incapable of doing the same, the person in question is not replaceable. Remember that the bag of spare parts that holds the cogs extends far beyond the confines of a single team, department, or company. –  corsiKa Sep 21 '11 at 21:31
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I have often used the saying 'dime a dozen' to refer to things that are low in value and easily replaced.

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+1 Here in Britain we'd say 'ten-a-penny' ;) –  5arx Sep 22 '11 at 16:34
    
I always say "two-a-penny", but ten-a-penny works, and rhymes nicely, so I think I may have just been saying it wrong :/ –  Carl Smith Jul 20 '13 at 14:12
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I think, based on your example, the word I would recommend is commodity.

The classic definition as shown on dictionary.com doesn't really work. But it is one of those words whose definition is changing as we speak, like access used to be something you did-now it's something you have. The word commodity used to be directly related to grains, trading and futures. In this context it means "that which is so common and available as to be nearly disposable."

And I think you'll find that people will know exactly what you mean (especially when used in the context of employment) without having to explain.

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Redundant might be useful. It doesn't have the exact meaning you're looking for, but when applied to a worker it carries the meaning that there are others in the organization that can (and are) doing the job. Usually it's applied to a position, rather than a person.

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This is actually really fitting for the context. –  Alain Sep 22 '11 at 14:10
    
In the Queen's English, I think "redundant" is the most fitting word. In the American vernacular, I'd vote for "replaceable". –  Timothy Lee Russell Sep 22 '11 at 15:32
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For a darker twist, try disposable.

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A pawn! A peon! A grunt! A stooge! A tool! A commodity! Nameless! Faceless! Anonymous! Unappreciated! Irrelevant! Unnecessary! Undifferentiated!

But if you were writing a movie script and you wanted just the right sardonic bite you'd use replaceable.

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Another alternative is 'pawn', as in chess.

(Fungible's my favourite so far though...)

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Different connotation I would say... while a pawn is usually somebody low-ranking, the implication is that they are being used for political gain by somebody higher-ranking. There isn't really any suggestion that they're replaceable or interchangeable; certainly in the context of chess, when a pawn is gone, it's gone. –  scottishwildcat Sep 22 '11 at 14:35
    
True, true. It's a fair point. I was aiming to convey the sense of 'one of many otherwise identical units'. Perhaps 'drone' would be more appropriate? –  Kris Jenkins Sep 22 '11 at 14:53
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In the technology field, the term "plug-compatible" is occasionally heard.

That originally referred to products that were made as cheaper replacements for IBM mainframe parts (or whole machines); the connotation is that you can unplug the original, plug in the replacement, and have everything carry on working just the same, the two parts being completely equivalent as far as any interacting component can tell.

The term has been borrowed to describe people, as hackers are wont to do, or rather, to disparagingly refer to to the idea widely held by project managers and other suit-wearing troublemakers that technical people are just jumped-up bricklayers, and any one of them is just as able to lay some particular course of bricks as any other.

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I'm a big fan of fungible, as others have mentioned. However, it is a bit obscure.

Words like dispensible or expendible are really more synonyms with disposable, meaning one-time usage.

The word I like to use is an indirect word; commodity. It's indirect because it's literal meaning is related to unprocessed goods, or something that is a 'product' rather than a service. The inference being that something is easily replaced because there are tons more just like it that can be easily acquired, like a McDonald's hamburger, or a box of kleenex.

It's usage would be Go ahead and quit, I don't care. You're a commodity to me.

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"commodity" ... reminds me of the CIA's term "asset" to mean a native hired as an operative. –  Hexagon Tiling Feb 11 '12 at 9:29
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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 22 '11 at 10:29

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