I am looking for a word that means “a process that you keep doing, hoping that you will learn something useful, but which you actually never learn anything from”. I'm quite sure that there is an English word for that: I read it once, but I cannot now remember it.

As an example:

Imagine your fridge keeps breaking and you keep fixing it, but you never learn anything new about fridges or about fixing them, since the whole fridge fixing process is "____".

The word that I am looking for is more about the skills and knowledge that you learn (or not) when you carry out a process, rather than about the success of the process itself.

Edit The process is as following: The fridge gets broken, lets call this failure-A, you as a good maintainer don't just fix the problem you also go very deep to understand what caused the problem and how you can prevent it again. After learning that, you hope that its going to help you in fixing the next issues.

However, when the fridge fails with failure-B you try to apply all the steps you learned from your previous fixes, nothing works. So you learn new skills from failure-B.

Repeat the following for failure-C, D, E .... and so on. This word would describe the whole fridge problem-fixing process.

  • 6
    "An exercise in futility"?
    – Oldbag
    Jan 12, 2015 at 0:19
  • 2
    Einstein supposedly defined that as "insanity".
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 12, 2015 at 4:14
  • 1
    Mindless? Mac OS X's dictionary carries a few meanings, the last one being * (of an activity) so simple or repetitive as to be performed automatically without thought or skill. Jan 12, 2015 at 6:54
  • 2
    @ermanen, Oldbag, Josh61: In the example, it sounds pretty much like fixing the fridge is by no means redundant, futile, or fruitless; it seems to be very effective. One just does not learn anything new from it. Jan 12, 2015 at 13:46
  • 2
    Maybe the asker means something like "stabbing in the dark" - one of those trial-and-error tasks based on guesswork where you try things until something works but you never understand why it worked? Jan 12, 2015 at 14:49

16 Answers 16


The first word that comes to mind is futile.

fu·tile adjective \ˈfyü-təl, ˈfyü-ˌtī(-ə)l\ : having no result or effect : pointless or useless

  1. : serving no useful purpose : completely ineffective

I've often heard and used phrases like "This was an exercise in futility." You could also say "It is futile to work on that fridge. It will soon break again." Considering your recent edit you might say "Learning anything that is useful for the next problem is futile."

You might also consider some clever use of frivolous. Nothing really great is coming to mind at the moment, but I'm sure you could think of something. Or just stick with futile.

  • +1 Or, use the more popular synonym "useless"
    – Raestloz
    Jan 13, 2015 at 6:37

It could well be that you're looking for unedifying.

From Collins:

unedifying adjective

not having the result of improving morality, intellect, etc [bolding mine]

CDO satisfyingly gives the appropriate sense for the base word here:

edify Verb UK (formal US)

to improve someone's mind

  • Unedifying : (Especially of an event taking place in public) distasteful; unpleasant (ODO).
    – user66974
    Jan 12, 2015 at 0:20
  • How can I use it in this sentence? the whole fridge-fixing process is unedifying the whole fridge-fixing an unedifying process Which one of the two sentences is preferred? Jan 12, 2015 at 0:36
  • 1
    You'd put it more conversationally: 'Over the years, I have found the whole fridge-fixing process/thing distinctly/remarkably/surprisingly/disappointingly unedifying'. Jan 12, 2015 at 0:38
  • Too chicken to post this as an answer, but I have heard whack-a-mole used as a metaphor in similar circumstances.
    – tripleee
    Jan 13, 2015 at 5:12
  • Whack-a-mole is more like the adjectival form of 'painting the Forth Bridge'. Painters probably never expected it to be very edifying. Jan 13, 2015 at 9:28

Sisyphean. It means to keep doing something but being unable to get anything fruitful. It comes from the story of Sisyphus, who was cursed to eternally roll a boulder up a hill. As soon as the he'd near the top, the boulder would roll down, and he would have to go to the bottom and roll it up again. It is work with no result.

  • 2
    It might be true and fit, but the normal connotation of sisyphean is more 'unending' than 'you learn nothing from it'.
    – Joe
    Jan 12, 2015 at 14:50
  • It's also almost guaranteed to get you a blank look if you use it anywhere other than Eton... most English speakers aren't particularly current with Greek Mythology. They may have heard the story, but won't know the word.
    – Jon Story
    Jan 13, 2015 at 10:55
  • @JonStory I would expect people to maybe know the word, but have never heard the story... since they "aren't particularly current with Greek Mythology".
    – DCShannon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:14

Are you looking for "fruitless"? "unproductive"?

fruitless (adj) - useless; unproductive; without results or success Dictionary.com

producing no good results : not successful Merriam-Webster

  • They made a fruitless attempt to find a solution.
  • It would be fruitless to continue.

another suggestion: uninstructive

  • 3
    Do you think "fruitless" describes the fridge example I used? Jan 11, 2015 at 23:52
  • 1
    @OmarAbdelhafith Sure, it's a fruitless, unproductive process. It doesn't fix your fridge and doesn't teach you anything either.
    – Centaurus
    Jan 11, 2015 at 23:55
  • 1
    The word I am looking for is more concerned about the learning process that accompanies doing a repetitive process Jan 11, 2015 at 23:56
  • 2
    @Centaurus you do fix your fridge short-term in this example. Sure, it breaks again later, but still isn't entirely fruitless.
    – o0'.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 9:53
  • 1
    +1 I couldn't think of much anything myself, but this is absolutely the perfect word. Learning all about the previous problems with the refrigerator has proven fruitless, as I haven't learned anything useful.
    – DCShannon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:16

Mechanistic describes the senseless performance of some activity, perhaps for a reason beyond one's actual comprehension.

Imagine your fridge keeps breaking and you keep fixing it, but you never learn anything new about fridges or about fixing them, since the whole fridge fixing process is only a mechanistic exercise.

  • much better answer than the accepted one.
    – Grump
    Oct 5, 2017 at 11:17

...the whole fridge-fixing process is uninforming.

  • 1
    Personally I think uninformative has a nicer ring to it.
    – myol
    Jan 12, 2015 at 12:29

Would "stultifying" fit the bill for you? It means causing you to lose enthusiasm and initiative, often because of tedium or excessive restrictions.

If the outcome was not what you desired, or even negative, you could describe the process as "counterproductive."


The idiom spinning your wheels is often used to mean

Like a car stuck in mud, to spin one's wheels is to try to make progress, but get nowhere. I sat down to write my term paper, but after three hours realized I was just spinning my wheels.

Urban Dictionary

It also sounds like déjà vu all over again, a redundantly recursive phrase often attributed to baseball legend Yogi Berra



Mind-numbing: (adjective) So extreme or intense as to prevent normal thought. Oxford Dictionaries

"The process of repairing that refrigerator was so mind-numbing that I gave up and bought an Igloo cooler." Or, "Everybody knows that fixing refrigerators is a mind-numbingly tedious occupation, so I'm looking for career alternatives." And one final example should suffice, "Now I know why that Maytag repairman was always sleeping on the job! Repairing this refrigerator has been absolutely mind-numbing!"

  • 1
    Also can be used when something is particularly boring, in my experience at least. Perhaps the boredom kills off brain cells? ;P
    – HarryCBurn
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:34
  • @Iplodman I have only heard this term to mean boring and uninteresting, which is pretty much the opposite of extreme or intense.
    – DCShannon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:17
  • Hey Now! @DCShannon - yes, taken in isolation, which is to say, out of context, that is how it would seem. Here though, extreme or intense would become extremely or intensely, acting as adverbs [or as submodifiers], wherein their intended sense becomes clear: To a very great degree; very: i.e., ‘Refrigerator repair is an extremely boring and uninteresting thing to do.’
    – user98990
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:42

Could it be "intransferable"? Or possibly, "idiosyncratic"?


perhaps "uneducational" would fit the bill. However as this is not a "real" word in dictionary sense - uninstructive is an alternative.


I believe automatous fits. It's the adjective form of "automaton". Basically, you're acting like a machine, a robot. You get the job done, so in one sense you're effective, but you haven't expanded your creative problem-solving abilities.

Machines just blindly do exactly what you tell them to do - they have no understanding whatsoever about discovering the causes of things, nor can they recognize similarities and use this information to categorize problems and solutions.

A simpler word would be robotic.


It's also possible you're looking for the word rote. You're fixing the fridge by rote, i.e. using a memorized procedure, which makes you unable to adjust for contingencies.

  • I don't like automatous: 1) Wiktionary (which is admittedly not a reliable source) lists it as obsolete, and more importantly 2) to me it implies there's an actual automaton involved.
    – Kevin
    Jan 13, 2015 at 2:23
  • @Kevin This site refers to Random House and to Collins English Dictionary - both list the adjective form and do not indicate it's obsolete. Google "define automatous" and it shows Merriam-Webster's definition to be "like, or suggestive of an automaton". So it does figuratively involve an automaton; e.g. the person doing the action. Similarly, you can call someone's motions robotic even though they aren't literally a robot.
    – Kelvin
    Jan 13, 2015 at 22:16
  • I think the asker has made it clear with their edit that they're doing a different process each time, and therefore the previous attempts were not useful. This is essentially the opposite of a rote or robotic operation.
    – DCShannon
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:19


early 17th century: from Latin jejunus ‘fasting, barren.’ The original sense was ‘without food,’ hence ‘not intellectually nourishing.’

1. naive, simplistic, and superficial. "their entirely predictable and usually jejune opinions"

2. (of ideas or writings) dry and uninteresting. "the poem seems to me rather jejune"


work that is futile is also


work given to you that serves no purpose but to keep you occupied is


(U.S. English speaker)


A wild-goose chase.

I was under the impression that the OP was looking for a noun (phrase).


Never use a big word when a small word will suffice:


  • 1
    In that case, maybe you meant 'work' instead of 'suffice'? ;)
    – HarryCBurn
    Jan 13, 2015 at 21:02
  • @Iplodman: Different connotations. I'd end up having to write "work well enough," or something similar, and that goes against omit needless words, which I consider more important.
    – Kevin
    Jan 13, 2015 at 21:03
  • Hmm, good point. Maybe do then? That has the same connotations. But as I said, good point!
    – HarryCBurn
    Jan 13, 2015 at 21:05

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