I imagine there must be a term/idiom/phrase for polishing something too early...

For example:

  • Painting the walls of a room before completing other work which may accidentally damage them.
  • Adding detail to a section of a drawing that you may likely need to radically change later (and lose the detail work)
  • Optimizing a software function which might be deemed unnecessary before it's even used

Though I can't seem to think of what this is called (no luck with searching either).

Originally I posted this in the 'workplace' stack exchange but was recommended to try here.

  • Not 'workplace' but stackoverflow.com maybe. Each domain will likely have its jargon term for this concept. Good question, though.
    – Kris
    May 21, 2014 at 5:24
  • 2
    I say "polishing" because I'm speaking purely about "making it look pretty" before all the heavy lifting is done which might undo all that polishing effort (it would definitely not be finished then).
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:01
  • 1
    @Kris which we doesn't use polishing to mean improve, refine, perfect etc ?
    – Frank
    May 21, 2014 at 6:21
  • 3
    Perhaps "polishing" takes on a different meaning here? I think most people I know would agree that polish and refine/perfect/etc are near synonyms.
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:36
  • 1
    Wiping before you poop.
    – MVCylon
    May 22, 2014 at 15:32

5 Answers 5


Well I normally hear - "You are doing that bass-ackwards!"

Which is just a nice way to say ass backwards, or doing something in the wrong order.

Ass backwards. The state doing (or having done) something the wrong way.

A nicer way to say it, "You are jumping the gun there."

To start something prematurely.

to do something before it should be done

  • 2
    Jumping the gun is generally accurate. "Premature optimization" / "premature refinement" is closer still, but I'm wondering if there's something even more precise.
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:21
  • For the way I asked the question, yes, this is the most accurate. I was actually asking the question based on an programming scenario I encountered, and found out that "gold plating" was even better for my specific case, but I'm choosing this answer for the sake of providing a useful searchable result for others.
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:48
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    I've heard describing something as being 'previous' - eg you've put down the carpet before painting the ceiling, that's a bit previous is it not? but I think it's probably a localisation (i'm in scotland)
    – jammypeach
    May 21, 2014 at 14:15
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    @jammypeach That's not something I've ever heard (native speaker, England). Nice expression, though! May 21, 2014 at 17:43
  • Are slang terms normally considered acceptable answers here, if the OP didn't ask for slang? May 21, 2014 at 21:28

I think that a saying that may fit your description is:

to put the cart before the horse

Fig. to have things in the wrong order; to have things confused and mixed up. (Also with have.) You're eating your dessert first! You've put the cart before the horse. John has the cart before the horse in most of his projects.

  • 2
    This is definitely close. Though in this case the order is not necessarily wrong (one would not polish something before creating a rough draft of it). The ultimate issue is that the person is not realizing that polishing of anything should not occur until everything has been completed at a rough draft level.
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:07
  • I didn't know this one existed in English too. But in Dutch we do it the other way around "putting the horse behind the wagon". It isn't quite working for me in the context of the poster though. (His 3rd example is the one he is really looking for.)
    – Tonny
    May 22, 2014 at 7:31

Here's a couple of IT specific terms.

In the context of IT premature optimisation is a common term, with the phrase 'premature optimisation is the root of all evil' coined.

While this explicitly refers to program optimisation, it can also make sense in other IT contexts. For example, if you're talking the ideal arrangement of buttons when mocking up a quick working prototype, saying

I think we're suffering from a case of premature optimisation here

would be perfectly understandable and get your point across.

Additionally in IT, there's the You ain't going to need it (YAGNI) principle, which states "Always implement things when you actually need them, never when you just foresee that you need them.".

You might say

This is breaking the you ain't gonna need it principle.

  • +1 for premature -1 for only applying in the IT sense. Premature is the generic catch all that can be applied to all three statements.
    – Frank
    May 21, 2014 at 5:36
  • Yes, premature optimization is definitely very close to what I was thinking. I was hoping that there might be a (more common) term for "premature refinement" where the word optimization would be just one of many types of refinements.
    – Wisteso
    May 21, 2014 at 6:15
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    if you're talking computers, without doubt "premature optimisation" is the answer. Good annswer
    – Fattie
    May 21, 2014 at 7:10
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    The phrase "premature optimization is the root of all evil" courtesy by Donald Knuth, author of "The Art of Computer Programming" and the TeX system.
    – DevSolar
    May 22, 2014 at 9:40

The phrase "getting ahead of yourself" also comes to mind.


The phrase doing the rounds here among the programming team is "squash first, shine later". The word "bugs" (after "squash") got lost somewhere.

I like it, but I'm fairly certain it is a very local thing. Never heard it anywhere else.

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