I am looking for a single, or multiple term(s) conveying something not living up to expectations.

Like in the sense of a new system is advertised as doing everything you need for a process at work; but, once you start using it, you discover it doesn't do exactly as promised. So, you have to create work-a-rounds.

  • Performance of the actual system was below expectations? The system did not meet its promised specs. – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 12 '14 at 20:31
  • Also see LINKED sidebar. . . . – James Waldby - jwpat7 Sep 13 '14 at 18:36

I'd use "let down".

Per MacMillan Dictionary:

to make someone disappointed by not doing something that they are expecting you to do

  • The kids will be let down when they hear you can't come after all.
  • The families of the victims feel that the justice system has let them down.

You can also use it for things, or for a new system as you describe, for instance:

The Apple event was a huge let down.

  • 1
    The noun form is frequently also spelled "let-down", or even simply "letdown". – Doug Warren May 4 '17 at 17:51

You could anthropomorphize it and describe it as an underachiever

a person (as a student) who fails to achieve his or her potential or does not do as well as expected [Merriam-Webster]

Similarly, you could say the system (or its proponents) overpromised

to promise more than can be delivered [Collins]

There are also colloquial phrases, such as missed the mark

to fail to achieve the result that was intended [Cambridge Dictionary Online]


1) Substandard "deviating from or falling short of a standard or norm" - In the same vein, you could say suboptimal and subpar.

2) Wanting "not having all that is needed or expected". Alternatively, you could use deficient, unsatisfactory.

3) Underperform "to be less successful than expected or required".


You may express the concept saying:

  • The new system didn't perform as expected , so had to resort to workarounds.
  • The new system was a failure, so we had to resort to workarounds.
  • The new system resulted inadequate for the specified requirements, so we had to resort to workarounds.

lackluster (lack·lus·ter, ˈlakˌləstər/)

adjective adjective: lacklustre; adjective: lackluster; adjective: lack-lustre; adjective: lack-luster

  • lacking in vitality, force, or conviction; uninspired or uninspiring.
  • (of the hair or the eyes) not shining; dull.

"no excuses were made for the team's lackluster performance"

synonyms: uninspired, uninspiring, unimaginative, dull, humdrum, uninvolving, colorless, characterless, bland, dead, insipid, vapid, flat, dry, lifeless, tame, prosaic, spiritless, lusterless; More boring, monotonous, dreary, tedious; informalblah "a lackluster performance"

antonyms: inspired


So, It doesn't do what it says on the can?

Works equally well with does or doesn't.

Some examples courtesy of Google-

The learning outcome in higher education can be seen as a development from outcome based education within the vocational sector (e.g. National Vocational Qualifications a.k.a. NVQs). In the vocational sector learning outcomes based on competencies are used to underpin the assessment of job related skills. Once the notion of having to account for learning had been set in place the adoption of a system related to one already introduced into parts of the education system was relatively simple and as James (2005) notes, the learning outcome is a seductively simple concept, it seems to 'do what it says on the can' but does it?


Here is A google books snippet using doesn't taken from Educational Research: Taking the Plunge.

And a third example-

Please help me out, Apple, or I might have to return this to you and ask for my money back. Or go to Trading Standards about misleading advertising ? I mean it is wifi, it has iTunes, it has Videos - but I can't really use them in any acceptable way. Why would I spend all that money for something that doesn't do what it says on the can ?


Apparently, it became well known from being a classic advertisement tag line. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.usage.english/2AyUqx-vjKs/JXsZBZVUreoJ

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.