What would you call a situation where the current one sucks but you have a 'choice' to an alternative, however the alternative is not really one.

Such as,

"Sure living in an area under a monopoly internet provider sucks, but you can always live without internet"

Demonstrating an issue where one of the choices isn't really a viable choice or at least comparable alternative.

(There are more dramatic ones)


8 Answers 8


You may be thinking of a Hobson's choice:

A Hobson's choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not; "take it or leave it". The phrase is said to originate with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England. To rotate the use of his horses, he offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or taking none at all.

Morton's fork and Scylla and Charybdis are related concepts.


You can consider the lesser of two evils (also a lesser evil).

the less unpleasant of two choices, neither of which is good:

But allowing a criminal to go free is perhaps the lesser of two evils if the alternative is imprisoning an innocent person.


  • While that works for saying that you prefer your choice, I wouldn't say it really describes the problem with situation.
    – CobaltHex
    Oct 3, 2014 at 21:00
  • 2
    @CobaltHex: You can perfectly fit in your example. "Sure living in an area under a monopoly internet provider is the lesser of two evils if the alternative is living without internet."
    – ermanen
    Oct 3, 2014 at 21:02
  • yes, I'm not disagreeing, I just feel like the phrase would be used in a different manner/context. Or at least, it doesn't really describe/emphasize the lack of real choice.
    – CobaltHex
    Oct 3, 2014 at 21:15
  • @CobaltHex: Hobson's choice doesn't indicate your specific situation at all. You have two bad options and one of them is worst than the other. Hobson's choice is about taking an option or not. You can call it "lesser of two evils principle" to indicate the situation better. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_of_two_evils_principle
    – ermanen
    Oct 4, 2014 at 18:04
  • well I was referring more to hobsons choice, where one of the choices isn't really a viable option
    – CobaltHex
    Oct 4, 2014 at 20:47

the most common phrase for this is between a rock and a hard place:

Being in a dilemma where the only two available options are both unsatisfying or bad.

The other term is dilemma:

a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.

Knowyourphrase.com and Dictionary.com

  • I wouldn't really consider them equally undesirable however. (Certainly both bad, but not in the same way)
    – CobaltHex
    Oct 3, 2014 at 20:14
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    @CobaltHex- That sums up ermanen's answer perfectly- both evil, but not equally so, therefore you choose the best of a bad situation. medica, I upvoted yours as well :-)
    – Jim
    Oct 3, 2014 at 21:48
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    If you go this route, also consider saying that it puts you in a bind.
    – person27
    Oct 4, 2014 at 0:26

Hugh Rawson, in his book Unwritten Laws, considers Shakespeare's First Law as an alternative to Hobson's Choice. It comes from The Taming of the Shrew, (1593-1594)

There's small choice in rotten apples


Plenty of alternatives in previous answers, but a modern variation would be a "sophie's choice." [Spoiler Alert] In William Styron's book (and the movie of the same name), the main character, a mother with two young children, is demanded by a Nazi officer to choose which child will go on a train to the camps, in order to preserve her own and the other child's life. (It's a choice she never really recovers from.)


'Up a river without a paddle' I wonder if pluralizing would get this done for you 'Up either river and no paddles' 'Damned if I do damned if I don't' "Between a rock and a hard place", since both objects or metaphorical choices are rough. "Between the devil and the deep blue sea" "Out of the frying pan, into the fire"

http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/up+a+river+without+a+paddle.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilemma


A fine loan-word (from German) that might be useful is Zugzwang - it refers to a situation in chess where any move a player makes will lead to disaster. The word is reasonably rarely-used but is found in English dictionaries.

  • 1
    No, that does not really fit. Zugzwang specifically refers to a situation where you HAVE to make a move. The person in the question has a choice. Oct 4, 2014 at 14:58

A situation that sucks and only has terrible alternatives is a huge $#1t-sandwich.

I'm not sure that Catch-22 or Hobson's choice apply here. A catch-22 means that each option has the other as a prerequisite, and Hobson's choice is a "false choice", where only one option is really given (the other being to do nothing, rather than having a legitimate second option). – Adam Robinson, -EL&U

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