In the company where I worked before, the team of specialists which handled customer dissatisfaction issues often came up with seemingly brilliant solutions which would initially appear to be key breakthroughs but would later turn out to be no more brilliant than those which had been tried and abandoned before.

Along those lines, let's suppose, someone is working on a big scientific discovery or breakthrough, it's got big hype and everything, but once it is made known to public and its applications are discussed, people notice nothing useful about it and dismiss it as nonconstructive or nonfunctional.

I am interested in knowing if there is a word or phrase to describe the idea.

(Edits made to rephrase some sentences)

  • 2
    An example would be that the OPERA experiment mistakenly reported neutrinos appearing to travel faster than light in 2011.
    – user19341
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 5:01
  • I have seen turned out to be a blob used in this context somewhere, don't quite nail it where.
    – Mohit
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 9:27
  • 1
    disappointment is a good word for anything that doesn't live up to expectations.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:13
  • 2
    For a simple one word response, how about overhyped?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:58
  • the internet ??
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 16:05

14 Answers 14


You could also consider the phrase damp squib, which refers to a wet firework that fails to go off, and by extension anything that fails to meet expectations.

  • 2
    Is this a Briticism? I don't think I've ever heard that phrase in the US, "wet Firecracker" is what I'd expect to hear instead. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 14:14
  • +1 and accept. A very interesting phrase. I liked flash in the pan too.
    – user32480
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 2:53
  • I would not advise this if you wanted something that would be commonly recognized in American English. As a native speaker - I've never heard this, and doubt most fluent American English speakers would have any idea what this meant.
    – Brad
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:20

flash in the pan

It's a phrase which goes back to the 17th-18th centuries, when flintlock firearms were discharged in two stages: a small priming charge in an external “pan” was ignited by a spark from the flint, and the resultant flame was supposed to travel through the touch-hole to ignite the main charge, behind the bullet. Often, however the charge in the pan fired but failed to travel, and the result was a misfire – a “flash in the pan”.

The phrase survived long after flintlocks were superseded, and is still in use today, although declining.


One could say it did not live up to the hype

live up to : To prove equal to

1. Excessive publicity and the ensuing commotion: the hype surrounding the murder trial.
2. Exaggerated or extravagant claims made especially in advertising or promotional material "It is pure hype, a gigantic PR job" (Saturday Review).


I would describe this as an illusory breakthrough.

  • 4
    Good one. Thinking along the same lines, you could call it a mirage. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 6:42

Fizzle (out):

End or fail in a weak or disappointing way: "their revolt fizzled out".
A failure.
verb. fizz - hiss - sizzle
noun. fizz - failure - fiasco - sizzle - flop


In this context you could use the verb fizz out. E.g.:

They claimed to be on the verge of changing the face of genetics, but all the hype soon fizzed out.

According to thesaurus.com, it is synonymous to "fall flat" and "come to nothing".


I came across mare's nest here which means 'a much vaunted discovery, which later turns out to be illusory or worthless'. So that's a close contender, too.


The once-pop-culture-permiating phrase "all that glitters is not gold" has a similar connotation: that something that appears valuable or "shiny" on the surface may not have value beneath the surface.

  • You mean all that is gold does not glitter — well, or glisten, per Shakespeare.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 12:02
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    @tchrist Nope...don't think he does. I've heard the former many times, the latter never. I'm guessing you're quite right about the origin, but (in my experience) it has changed. Google has about twice as many hits for "all that glitters is not gold" as well.
    – Beska
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 13:00
  • 4
    @tchrist That may be the origin of SouthpawHare's phrase; but they don't mean the same thing. His means "not everything that looks valuable is valuable", yours means "not everything that is valuable looks valuable". Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 14:17
  • 1
    @tchrist - "all that is gold does not glitter" is a Tolkienism; it's part of the poem written by Bilbo about Aragorn.
    – Adam V
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:27
  • 2
    Shakespeare had "All that glisters is not gold". Some editions use glisten or glitters because glister is now archaic.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 16:04

Such a discovery could be called a red herring:

...a type of logical fallacy in which a clue is intentionally or unintentionally misleading or distracting from the actual issue. It is also a literary device employed by writers that leads readers or characters towards a false conclusion, often used in mystery or detective fiction.

I think this fits especially well because of the literary usage: when a character in a book encounters a red herring, she may have a similar experience to what you describe—initially thinking a discovery or clue is important, but later finding that it was irrelevant to the truth.

Another possibility is a wild-goose chase: "A futile search, a fruitless errand; a useless and often lengthy pursuit."

  • Downvoter, would you mind leaving a comment to say why you downvoted? Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 5:05
  • it's ELU, don't worry about it
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 16:07

Perhaps "a prematurely lauded discovery".


In Hollywood, they call this phenomenon a flop.

  • A flop doesn't necessarily imply having been hyped in advance, and a movie is not a big scientific discovery, which is what the OP is asking for.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 10:08
  • 2
    You are confusing the OP's example with the main gist in question. In case you hand't noticed all movies are hyped. If there weren't hyped, we wouldn't know about them. BTW, things that go flop, make a sound, because the hype took them so high.
    – cxx6xxc
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 10:25
  • 1
    The question mentions "a much hyped discovery", "brilliant solutions", "key breakthroughs" and "big scientific discovery or breakthrough" throughout. It's not just an example. It is the very gist of the question. And no, not all movies are hyped. In fact the absence of hype is the reason behind many of the flops. Also, please do not roll back the formatting.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 10:34

All bark and no bite

According to Wiktionary it is an idiomatic phrase that means 'Full of big talk but lacking action, power, or substance; pretentious.'


It's a little specific - but I would throw in vaporware (noun). This is specific to software, but it indeed means a new, upcoming, over-promised, highly-anticipated product which never comes to fruition (i.e. is only "vapor").


Say that it was ahead of its time.

Of course, this is only if you want to be positive about the idea/work/etc, as the implication is not that the idea is bad, just that we just weren't quite ready for it. Basically, it's your fault that you weren't ready for the world changing awesomeness.

For a mini usage demo, cue the Segway.

I still think it's a dumb idea — not just because it's likely to lead to greater misspelling of segue — and would call it a fizzer. It definitely didn't live up to the hype, being an illusory "breakthrough" in personal mobility. However, Segway would say that:

It's ahead of its time

Like any invention that's ahead of its time, the Segway PT is often misunderstood. The gleeful smiles of Segway PT riders may have created an impression that it is ...well...a toy. But make no mistake. While a Segway PT is incredibly fun to ride, it is serious transportation designed for today's world.


And I've just noticed I've used an Australian colloquialism:

fizzer n. colloq

  1. a firecracker that fails to explode
  2. a failure; a fisasco

(Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1990 ed)

  • Not only does "ahead of its time" not imply "bad"; it in fact implies "good", something that turns out as useful, valuable, appreciated, just at a later date. While the OP is expressly asking for something that implies "worthless". Fizz out, fizzle, and fizzle out have already been suggested in two other answers.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 10:13
  • @RegDwight I may need to rewrite the answer to reflect it better, but I thought the segway example would be a case of something fitting the OPs description - it was hyped ahead of time as a breakthrough in personal mobility, but when revealed it fell flat. I'd use the term 'ahead of it's time' sarcastically in this case.
    – tanantish
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 11:47
  • @RegDwighт Also, re: fizzer. Happy for that to be cut out and merged somewhere else but I wasn't sure if it's best placed next to the answer by Kris, or Prince Goulash. Suggestions?
    – tanantish
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 11:51
  • This is a common understated 'spin' on a bad situation, so is not ostensibly equivalent to what is asked for.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 15:57
  • @Mitch Yep, I think I was having an off day, and didn't read the question (and post a sane-enough) answer. It's adding noise to the lot so I'll probably set it up for deletion in short order.
    – tanantish
    Commented Jan 19, 2013 at 2:48