I'm looking for an idiom for when you do a work in order to better a situation. However, the work you do is not sufficient, so even though your work is not entirely wasted (as it does have some function), it was not close to meet the demanded function (e.g. like building a country road when you really needed a freeway).

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    "Nice try", "a day late and a dollar short". – Hot Licks Mar 13 '15 at 11:39
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    What is “a work”? Work is seldom a count noun. – tchrist Mar 13 '15 at 12:34
  • From the context I read "a work" as in "a public work", though on the whole it does look a bit strange. – Silverfish Mar 13 '15 at 12:35

How about the phrase "Close but no cigar"?


One phrase for an incomplete task is a job half done (see eg thefreedictionary.com; thesaurus.com also suggests loose end but I don't think that works for your road example).

The economic job isn’t done to the timetable or the standard that was promised. It is, at best, half done. The chancellor’s great hope is to persuade people that the only other contractors in town are even worse cowboys than his crew. — Rafael Behr, Osborne the cowboy budgeter has unveiled a job half done, theguardian.com, 3 December 2014

(Titled by the newspaper as Yellow lines: why leave a job half done?) SIR – Following the partial resurfacing of Lowther Street in Whitehaven, it is surprising to see that those responsible for the work ran out of yellow paint and were unable to comply with legislation regarding road markings. ... Would Cumbria county councillors responsible for highways, or whoever is responsible for this failure, and in particular the shoddy finish on the Church Street corner, please explain why? — Reader's letter, Whitehaven News, 17 July 2014

I also highlighted the phrase shoddy finish which might make sense in your context. More vulgarly, you might say that the task was a half-assed job or (British English) a half-arsed job.

While this can have the sense of incompetent or lazy it also has the sense of incomplete or not fully developed (see eg reference.com and wiktionary). Here's a usage that almost perfectly matches your example:

Normally this would have been solved with a brand new highway, but as the Yakutia region is the absolute backwater of Siberia, it was not too high on the Soviet government's give-a-damn list. So they just mowed a half-assed dirt road next to a local river, named it the M56 Lena Highway, placed it on the list of actual federal highways and had the rest of the day off. — Xavier Jackson, 6 Insane Roads You Won't Believe People Actually Drive On, spiked.com, 24 March 2012

  • I think this is what comes closest to the meaning I am after. Would there be an equivalent without the word "arse" in it? – Tassi Mar 13 '15 at 10:20
  • @Tassi There's "job half done" which refers more specifically to a project not taken through to completion. Another answers suggests "half-baked" but I've generally seen that to suggest something was "crazy" or a "stupid idea". Merriam-Webster.com suggests it means lacking in planning, judgment or common sense - in other words a poorly thought-out scheme - but that it can also mean "poorly carried out", which is closer to what you seek. – Silverfish Mar 13 '15 at 12:34

Don't know if this really fits, but being a Yogi Berra fan, my first thought is

It ain't over 'til it's over. (A misquote of "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.")

This was to encourage the team during the 1973 National League pennant race.


  • close enough for government work (but not good enough for us)
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    The phrase is too popular, nobody uses it anymore. – Blessed Geek Mar 11 '15 at 8:48
  • @BlessedGeek - haha! He was great. – anongoodnurse Mar 11 '15 at 8:52
  • I think the "half-arsed job" comes closest to what I am looking for alhough I would prefer a nicer idiom without the word "arse" in it – Tassi Mar 13 '15 at 10:18

Half-baked (poorly developed or carried out; lacking adequate planning or forethought): half-baked work, half-baked task

half-assed (not fully planned or developed)

p. s. I think the wide spread phrase Sisyphean task or labor of Sisyphus could have a very close meaning in a particular context. Of course it carries another meaning.


A drop in the bucket. An insufficient or inconsequential amount compared to what is required. http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+drop+in+the+bucket


[be in the] right ballpark, [but sitting in the] wrong bleachers

right ballpark, wrong base

to be in the ballpark

: to be near a target, to be close to a target

MNC Bootcamp

right church, wrong pew

: close, but not quite right.

American Idioms

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