A friend keeps whining about "losing n reputation points" on Stack Exchange.

My instinctive interpretation is that some of the votes he had earned were reversed due to vote fraud. What he really means, though, is that he hit the daily reputation limit and can't take advantage of up votes that are still coming in.

What is a better phrase to use to talk about points lost due to the rep cap? Something similarly short, but less confusing.

  • 11
    I think "life" fits.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 21, 2014 at 22:16
  • 1
    that's a tricky one - I don't know precisely how you'd phrase that! it's a "could have..." gain. it's a "if only the rules weren't against me!..." gain.
    – Fattie
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:06
  • 2
    He lost out on X points. To lose out: To fail to achieve or receive an expected gain
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 23, 2014 at 5:39

11 Answers 11


Your friend missed out on those points. This idiom is commonly used to indicate missed opportunity, though it doesn't suggest specifically how that opportunity was missed.

If you find his experience was unfair to his position, you could say he was shorted or short-changed those lamented points: he was given less than was fair, depriving him of the full reward of his work.

  • I like that these suggestions accurately describe the situation without any hedging adjectives. Oct 26, 2014 at 17:24

Notional loss?

By not buying a lottery ticket, one could "lose" a million dollars.

As opposed to a real loss of a dollar or two by buying one.

This answer and the OP's example may not seem to match. That is because in the example, the loss is real, and so the example doesn't quite serve the purpose of the question.

( meta: For some reason, I'm unable to post comments for now.
A nominal loss is a symbolic loss or usually, an insubstantial, so negligible, loss – but real loss. It's not hypothetical like notional loss. )

  • Indeed. interestingly you often hear: ... nominal loss. I really don't know which is more correct based actually on a good reading of the meanings of these words. But you do commonly hear "nominal loss". "If only I hadn't sold that apartment in London -- my nominal loss over the decade is two million!!!" sort of thing.
    – Fattie
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:02
  • Just BTW for some reason the markup system is removing the gap before the word "nominal" in that comment! Weird!
    – Fattie
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:03
  • 1
    @JoeBlow I believe consecutive whitespace characters are stripped from comments in order to more accurately enforce the minimum character limit. Oct 22, 2014 at 17:22

In the trading world, we'd call this a paper loss, and its theoretical nature makes us a bit cynical and snarky about it.

Of course, a "paper loss" has its counterpart in "paper gains", which we're even more cynical and snarky about. The whole idea is encapsulated in the term "paper trading", whose Investopedia definition reads, in part:

As a result, basic investment strategies such as buying low and selling high – which are quite difficult to adhere to in real life – appear relatively easy to make while paper trading. The first lesson of paper trading, therefore, is that while it is a great practice tool, it is very different from actual trading with real money.

  • You can have a paper loss while trading for real, not just with paper trading. That's when you buy a stock and it drops, but as long as you don't sell, it's just a paper loss. Oct 22, 2014 at 16:09
  • @Paco, No, that's an unrealized loss, and it is very different, and much worse, than a paper loss.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 22, 2014 at 16:28
  • According to investopedia, a paper loss is the same thing as an unrealized loss: investopedia.com/terms/p/paperprofitorloss.asp Oct 22, 2014 at 16:35

Your title, and description don't match; the title is more interesting to me so that's what I'll strive to answer.


According to Merriam-Webster a definition of potential is:

existing in possibility

and a definition of lost is:

no longer possessed

So perhaps lost-potential would be a good term?


Loss of something not yet gained.


According to Merriam-Webster a definition of delusion is:

a belief that is not true

and a definition of loss is:

failure to keep or to continue to have something

So perhaps delusional-loss would be a good term?


A fictional loss.


According to Merriam-Webster a definition of fiction is:

something that is not true

and a definition of loss is:

failure to keep or to continue to have something

So perhaps fictional-loss would be a good term?


an imagined possessional adjustment


If you were to relate the SE Rep system to a more traditional concept, like filling a cup with water, the cup can only contain X amount, and the rest is 'wastage' or 'overflow'.

'overflow' has the potential to be recovered, but 'wastage' is more final, like the loss from the cap. But 'wastage' implies carelessness, or negligence.

This brings it more in line with the concept of 'overkill'.

overkill: something that is much larger, greater, etc., than what is needed for a particular purpose

Their answers were so good, that there was a +60 overkill

That works for me.

  • 1
    Overrun -continue beyond or above an expected or allowed time
    – Mazura
    Oct 21, 2014 at 21:33
  • All of these do indicate excess, but not the sense of entitlement to the excess that seems central to OP's question. In fact, they imply that the excess has no value at all, much like cruft.
    – talrnu
    Oct 22, 2014 at 18:48

"unrealized gains"?  "uncaptured potential gains"?


In the same situation, I whine about wasted n reputation points, or say that another n points / votes down the drain.

These "lost" points are wasted, as in a wasted opportunity. Or wasted, as in youth is wasted on the young: something given but not used to its potential, and therefore lost.

These "lost" points went down the drain, as in money down the drain, that could have been yours and surely useful for something, but now it's gone, irrecoverable.

In short, the word for these "lost" rep points to me is "wasted".

We're looking for an expression that meets two conditions at the same time:

  1. Indicate that rep points were lost
  2. Indicate (or at least imply) that the loss is due to excess upvotes, as opposed to serial upvote reversal

I think "wasted" comes close enough. It indicates that something was lost. To me, "wasted" may imply that the loss was at least partly my fault. When I receive too many upvotes, it's usually because I answered too many questions during the day. A fewer would have been enough, my effort is partly wasted, so it's partly my fault. On the other hand, loss due to serial upvote reversal is out of my control. Those rep points are taken away from me by external factors, through no fault of my own. The word "waste" doesn't seem to fit this case well, so it naturally suggests the other likely alternative, that I'm receiving upvotes in excess of the daily cap.

As a side note, perhaps as a little consolation, these wasted reputation points down the drain are not always 100% lost. Sometimes, in the fortunately rare event of serial upvote reversals, those "lost" points seem to mitigate the damage.


The word forfeit captures the notion of losing something, and it can apply to something that is offered to you as well as something that you already have. It also implies that there is a rule that prevents you from obtaining the desired object. For example, you can forfeit a prize by failing to meet certain requirements.

Unfortunately, it also has a connotation that the loss is due to neglect or wrongdoing on the part of the intended recipient. Perhaps that could be rectified by saying involuntarily forfeited instead.

  • By knowingly participating in a system where the rules clearly define a hard limit on reputation gain, it's implied that he actively agrees to those rules. You could therefore say he actively forfeited the extra points. Forfeit itself doesn't imply neglect or wrongdoing, just willing relinquishment.
    – talrnu
    Oct 22, 2014 at 20:15

What your friend has lost is not SE reputation, but rather time. He is investing his time in order to exchange it for SE rep, but he is investing too much time on SE. His stated intention is to increase his rep, but he is hitting the rep cap. Therefore he should invest less time on SE (or diversify his participation on the SE network sites) in order to come closer to the cap without going over.

Thus, the proper term is "wasting time".

  • 3
    The reputation gain is highly unpredictable, though. This answer took me nearly no time to write, yet caused me to nearly hit the rep cap. What would you call that? Should I have put less effort into the answer, so as not to waste time? Oct 22, 2014 at 8:51
  • I would call that one luck! Every theory has an edge case, and that is certainly an edge case. Nice answer, though!
    – dotancohen
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:58

The term "perceived loss" (as opposed to an actual loss) comes to mind.


If your friend considers his activity on StackExchange to include a reward-winning strategy, then he might think he made decisions that resulted in his waiving or forgoing the reputation points as a consequence of his decisions and the rules for awarding reputation points. If he had made different decisions (e.g., posted some answers on a later day) he might have earned those rewards, which accounts for his perceived loss.

To waive or forgo (forego) is refrain from claiming something.

(This is different from forfeiting, or giving up something in one's possession.)

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