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What are some alternate ways to describe a work product that is an utter failure, plus the additional connotations of:

  • Low quality; of little or no redeeming value; completely botched
  • Doomed from the start
  • Ugly to look at; atrocious; abominable; vile

One way might be "it was an abortion of a report," but while this has most of the connotations I'm looking for, I think it is too offensive. I'm looking for something that has the same punch without the loaded word (that to some is fairly obscene itself).

I didn't think of botched until I wrote this question, and it is close, but doesn't have quite the same impact or have all the connotations I'd like.

If you need more specifics about what's being described, then focus on a piece of computer program code as the item that was an utter failure.

Otherwise it could be almost anything: a report, a speech, a theatrical production, a TV show, a presentation or performance, an art or craft, etc.

10 months later

A single word is not going to be possible. So, I'm leaning toward something like:

  • This report is a vomit-inducing bowel movement.
  • The code is a misbegotten pile of vomit.
  • A well-polished, repulsive, smelly turd.

And to intentionally mix metaphors:

  • A festering train-wreck of an ill-conceived abomination.
  • A misbegotten, putrefying emetic.
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You might want to be more clear in your question. You asked for a word to describe a failed "project;" fiasco sprung to my mind, but you dismissed that. It sounds like you want a word to describe the end product, more so than the project, or the development effort. The word "project" might be throwing us off. – J.R. Apr 19 '12 at 17:55
Thank you, J.R., I see what you mean. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 17:56
Are you describing a report, a chair, a haircut, or a North Korean missile launch? I might use different words for each. – J.R. Apr 19 '12 at 17:58
J.R. Edited again. Is that better? – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 18:00
It depends. If it's your hair, it's a botched job; if it's mine, it's a new style. – Kris Apr 19 '12 at 18:12

10 Answers 10

Low quality; of little or no redeeming value; completely botched

A complete fiasco?

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Fiasco to me has bigger connotations about the effect something had in an organization or the outcomes in the real world, and to me tends to fit better to a series of events or decisions rather than on a work product. The botched work product might lead to or be a prime player in a fiasco, but not necessarily. If someone builds by hand an awful piece of furniture and thus proves to have absolutely no aptitude for wordworking at all, this botched job isn't necessarily a fiasco for anyone. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 17:49

Wow, there must be hundreds of words for this in English, depending on the exact tone and connotation. Mild terms would include "didn't work out", "not what we were hoping for", and "not a complete success". More sever terms would be "total failure", "disaster", and "catastrophe". If you want to get more colorful you can always use metaphors, "a Pearl Harbor", "disgusting", "makes me want to throw up", etc.

(On the "understated" side, I am reminded of a speech Queen Elizabeth once made in which, referring to the year in which her son was divorced and her palace burned down, said, "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.")

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Ooh perhaps I could work emetic into my final masterpiece phrase... haha. "Roll it up and save it in the medicine cabinet to double as an emergency emetic." – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 17:58
Yes, opus horribilis would work :p – Eugene Seidel Apr 20 '12 at 13:48
+1 for "makes me want to throw up" and the associated word, "emetic" – ErikE Apr 22 '12 at 22:21

'That was a disaster', as in

Her first attempt at frying an egg was a disaster.

(It failed, was doomed to fail, the looks of the end result made her weep bitterly, no one wanted to hear, let alone talk, about it.)

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Disaster, to my mind, focuses on the ultimate effects in the world. It does have connotations of being a bad job from the start, obviously poor. Frying an egg isn't much of a work product to critique. Hmmm... "her first professional wedding cake design was a disaster." Okay, I can see that, but compare this to "her first professional wedding cake design was an ill-conceived abomination most useful as an emetic." WOW! Now that has punch, which disaster doesn't—at least by itself. And it's about the product and the skill of the creator rather than how it fared overall in its results. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 19:43

I think the phrase "cluster-f*ck" could get pretty close to what you want, although it might be a bit too vulgar for some situations. The literal meaning might not make sense, but the idiomatic use implies a collection of failures/screw-ups that may also compound each other.

This project has been a complete cluster-f*ck! I am very glad I that I am not the one who will have to explain this to management!

Another phrase you could use is "train-wreck" and though that doesn't really cover "Doomed from the start", I think it covers your other two points very well.

Since you mention that you're talking about computer code, the phrase I hear most often used to describe code like you describe is "WTF!" or "WTF-code", where WTF stands for "What the F*ck!?"

The more I think about it, the more I have trouble coming up with a single phrase or word that also obviously includes "Doomed from the start". So you might have to have a longer phrase such as

That reporting system was a train-wreck from Day One!


That ill-conceived reporting system is a train-wreck!

To include the "doomed from the start" idea.

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Yup; your initial suggestion is too vulgar for my tastes – I'd prefer a suggestion that could be used more broadly. I do like train wreck, though... – J.R. Apr 19 '12 at 18:57
The first suggestion is even more offensive than the one I was trying to avoid. There's no way I could say that to anyone, especially in a professional context. Though, train wreck is a good way to imply total failure, and ill-conceived is a perfect word for doomed from the start. It makes me think of misbegotten which is even closer to abortion. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 19:32
+1 for "ill-conceived". Not happy about cluster-f. Perhaps consider removing it. I specifically asked for something less offensive than the phrase I already had in mind. – ErikE Apr 22 '12 at 22:23

It is a shambles.

Merriam provides these definitions:

b : a scene or a state of great destruction : wreckage

c (1) : a scene or a state of great disorder or confusion (2) : great confusion : mess

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Ugly to look at; atrocious; abominable; vile

How about an abomination?

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That's good but misses the failure part. It emphasizes how awful it is by its very nature, but doesn't address that it was the result of a botched effort. Though there may not be anything superior. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 17:46
I suppose one man's abomination is another man's hit musical. Are there abominable successes? Do you consider failure to be an on/off condition? – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 19 '12 at 17:49
My views on the polarity of failure states are irrelevant! I'm simply looking for the connotations mentioned. They may not be possible. Thank you for your contribution. – ErikE Apr 19 '12 at 17:52
@cornbreadninja: Even abominations can fulfill certain needs and therefore be considered useful in some respect. I know of some software systems that in some ways are abominations but can also be useful (usually in the absence of anything better). – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Apr 19 '12 at 18:36
That may be, but simply put, a failure is the opposite of success. There are no degrees of failure for pass/fail tests, for instance. Hyperbole. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Apr 19 '12 at 19:15

I have heard a "complete FUBAR" being used in this cases. FUBAR stands for "f'ed up beyond any recognition".

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A dud - something you hoped to work but appeared disappointing, failed completely, with no redeeming values.

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One simple English term that is often used in such settings is debacle, which (according to the 2003 Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary) can have any of four meanings:

debacle n (1802) 1 : a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river 2 : a violent disruption (as of an army) : ROUT 3 a : a great disaster b : a complete failure : FIASCO

So with debacle you get three horrendous implications—a violent rout (as of an army), a disaster, and a fiasco—for the price of one, plus a very cool image of the ice in a frozen river breaking up amidst great tumult.

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How about ill-fated or ill-starred?

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