Let's say that I abhor doing a particular chore such as the dishes. Let's then say I intentionally do the dishes poorly. That way when my significant other sees the bad job I've done they stop asking me to do the dishes because they believe me to be utterly incompetent.

Is there a word or phrase for such behavior?

  • 3
    Related: Cunningham's Law.
    – wchargin
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 5:04
  • Perhaps "pulling a Zaphod", but that could mean so many things.
    – Chara
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 7:33
  • There is word for the SO who thereafter does the dishes: patsy.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 21:34
  • For me it's anything having to do with housework.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 3:03

5 Answers 5


I refer to this tactic as, “Strategic Incompetence”. It is a tactic that, however effective in the short term, can prove disastrous in the long run, as one might eventually convince their significant other that one is as dumb as rocks, and that’s even worse than doing one's own dishes.

"Avoiding Strategic Incompetence"

• “He began to milk his lack of picnic knowledge for all it wasn’t worth. He responded to any inquiries or suggestions with questions and comments such as ‘how do you do that’, or ‘what did you guys do in the past’ or even ‘help me remember why we’re talking about this’. Ultimately, responsibility for the picnic was reassigned. Mission unaccomplished.”

• “Strategic incompetence isn’t about having a strategy that fails, but a failure that succeeds. It almost always works to deflect work on doesn’t want to do – without ever having to admit it. See, Bill Bilanich Avoiding Strategic Incompetence

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  • 1
    Is this your own term or someone else's? It's unclear from your answer. Can you edit to clarify?
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 3:37
  • 2
    Well, I thought of it by myself and then googled it. Check out the link I've included. Obviously I'm not the first to term the tactic you describe in such terms - in fact variations on this theme are an old slave trick.
    – user98990
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 3:41
  • 1
    +1 Eva. Why couldn't I think of it! :) Here is a dilbert strip to back up your answer: dilbert.com/strip/1996-10-14
    – ermanen
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 3:44

You can consider the phrase shirk one's duty.

Shirk implies evasion or avoidance by means that suggest laziness or sneakiness.

I also came upon an article titled "Men deliberately do housework badly to avoid doing it in future" on telegraph.co.uk that is exactly about what you ask.

Most interesting of all, the study found that those men who deliberately shirk their household duties by doing a bad job on purpose usually get away with their dastardly scheme. A quarter of men said they no longer get asked to do jobs around the house, with 64 per cent saying they are only occasionally asked to help.


Rita Rudner, a comedian, referred to this as someone breaking the dishes so as to not get asked to do them ever again.


I believe the current phrase for this is "weaponised incompetence". Though this definition relates specifically to familial duties, it's easily understandable and could presumably be extended to many similar situations.

Weaponized incompetence is a behavior pattern where one partner pretends to be bad at simple tasks to get out of shared responsibilities. (Mind Body Green)

  • You could improve your answer by providing resources for the information you give.
    – fev
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 18:27

I have always heard that thought spun as an aphorism: "If you do a job poorly enough the first time, you'll never be asked to do it again."

  • Conversely, the reward for faithfulness is usually more responsibility!
    – thomj1332
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:40

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