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I have a family member who worked at a cat boarding facility. There, she met a couple who jokingly described their cat as "beautiful but worthless." Is there a word in the English language to describe such a purrradox? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

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    +1 for the purrradox! The premise reminds me of art. Utterly useless other than to allow those who look upon it to derive whatever pleasure they wish from it. I hope you get a response - I'm interested to know too! – user98041 May 7 '15 at 9:35
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    Priceless = either so expensive or so worthless, that you cannot put a price on it. The cat is priceless - having no worth and yet worths so much in beauty. – Blessed Geek May 7 '15 at 12:16
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    We have a "decorator cat" – Ex Umbris May 7 '15 at 14:16
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    "White elephant" is a term to consider. Supposedly the term originated from the habit of an Asian prince for gifting people he did not especially like with a white elephant (the real thing). Since the white elephant was considered sacred the giftee could not simply kill it, but it was very expensive to feed, so the individual was saddled with a continuing burden. – Hot Licks May 7 '15 at 22:42
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    I don't understand the context. How can a cat be "worthless"? – Lightness Races in Orbit May 10 '15 at 1:28

11 Answers 11

57

You could say Mrs. Whiskers is purely ornamental.

For example, Cambridge gives the definition of "ornamental" as precisely "beautiful rather than useful":

Screenshot of Cambridge Dictionary Online's definition of "ornamental" : "beautiful rather than useful".

Furthermore, Vocabulary.com lists "non-functional" as the first synonym of "ornamental", and Wikipedia has this to say about ornamental plants:

Ornamental plants are plants which are grown for display purposes, rather than functional ones.

You could also say Princess Pretty Paws is cosmetic, decorative, or even a mere bauble. Just don't do it to her face.

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    Tinsel also figuratively. +1 – ermanen May 7 '15 at 13:20
  • @DanBron Utilitarian, but I hardly think that qualifies. It's far too flamboyant. Hmmm.... apparently utilitarian and ornamental are antonyms. – Chris Sunami May 7 '15 at 13:25
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    I'm not sure that ornamental really works: I have, for instance, a number of female acquaintances who are both useful (my vet springs to mind), yet quite ornamental. Likewise my dogs and horse, and some of my fruit trees: ornamental, but serving useful purposes as well. – jamesqf May 7 '15 at 21:39
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    @jamesqf i would say, then, that your vet is attractive (and NOT ornamental). – erich May 8 '15 at 6:00
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    Shouldn't that have been purrly ornamental? – jxh May 8 '15 at 6:22
13

Buried at the end of Dan's answer, without getting a fair shake:

bauble -Google

bau·ble /ˈbôbəl/ noun

  1. something that is superficially attractive but useless or worthless.

Caryatids are ornamental. Ornate although they are, they're not baubles; the roof of the Erechtheion requires them for support.

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    Per the OP's question, however, I would not refer to a cat as bauble, which I connote as meaning something inanimate and referring generally gems or jewelry. – Tony Ennis May 9 '15 at 14:09
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It's an obscure word: gewgaw.

From the New Oxford American Dictonary:

a showy thing, especially one that is useless or worthless.

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    this is a word for a doodad or trinket, perhaps something you picked up in a tourist gift shop. i'm not seeing the connection to "beautiful" here. – erich May 8 '15 at 6:06
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    I agree with @erich , but it is a lovely word. – Tony Ennis May 9 '15 at 14:05
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    Thanks for all of the comments. It should be noted that other dictionaries define gewgaw as: "A showy trifle; a toy; a splendid plaything; a pretty but worthless bauble." Understandable that we could argue the semantics of pretty vs. beautiful, but gewgaw can refer to something that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, yet worthless. – chowwy May 10 '15 at 21:31
5

The kitty is purrty.

pretty: (often pejorative) Fine-looking; only superficially attractive; initially appealing but having little substance [Wiktionary]

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    purrrrrrrty? (stole joke from @piggy.) – Ideogram May 8 '15 at 16:58
  • First I've ever seen pretty defined with (often pejorative). +1 for that, i guess – JoeTaxpayer May 10 '15 at 13:17
5

You can say that that particular thing is just "for show".

For show

For the sake of appearance rather than for use (Oxford Dictionaries)

Example sentence,

It was a commonplace of Roman food writing to despise complicated dishes designed for show rather than for taste

4

If you really want to use a single word for this, you might have to settle for an analogy. The problem then becomes the obscurity of the reference, which would then require explanation, thus revealing the economy of words to be illusory. However, here are a couple of examples:

  • Paris-Hiltonian
  • pyritic

The last has the virtue of actually being in the dictionary.

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    It's not cool to make cracks about real live people. Of course, if you are quoting someone else, please do indicate that. – Andrew Leach May 7 '15 at 20:10
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    Commenting on public figures seems legit to me. We all knew exactly what he meant. – Tony Ennis May 9 '15 at 14:07
3

Perhaps you're looking for meretricious!

apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity.[1]


[1] "Meretricious, n.1." OED Online. Oxford University Press, April 2016. Web. 21 April 2016.

2

Something that's been gilded has a thin veneer of pretty gold on top, but underneath that, it may be something worthless. The word is often used metaphorically, as in "The Gilded Age."

Gild

verb (used with object)

  1. to coat with gold, gold leaf, or a gold-colored substance.

  2. to give a bright, pleasing, or specious aspect to.

(Dictionary.com)

  • Gold is more impressive or dazzling than beautiful, I would say. I don't think calling something gilded implies it's beautiful. – einpoklum May 9 '15 at 20:02
2

eye candy

Slang. someone or something that is visually attractive or pleasing but is usually considered to lack worth or merit.

Random House

trumpery

A showy thing of no intrinsic value; something intended to deceive by false show; worthless finery.

Fine Dictionary

0

You could also use folly perhaps in a more specific sense:

  1. A structure, such as a pavilion in a garden, that is chiefly decorative rather than practical in purpose.

Source

  • Can you use that in a sentence please? – einpoklum May 9 '15 at 20:02
  • 18th century English gardens often feature beautiful and elaborate follies. – Nobilis May 9 '15 at 21:07
  • Hmpph... Can you use that as the subject in a sentence without 'beautiful' or a similar adjective? :-) – einpoklum May 9 '15 at 21:27
  • I'd struggle to be honest, in this case folly refers to a specific type of architectural feature. Follies were structures that had no practical value but were built purely for their aesthetic features. For a similar use that omits 'beuatiful' you could refer to this article, specifically This comprehensive volume covers over two hundred projects – from the earliest experimentations to product design, from follies to large-scale built works – Nobilis May 10 '15 at 12:21
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    Well, I guess you earned your +1 (grumble). – einpoklum May 10 '15 at 15:07
-1

If you mean something that you couldn't sell for much money but is nevertheless worth a lot to you, I'd say it had purely sentimental value.

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    No cat is ever truly worthless. The question is how one defines "worth". I set the bar low. My cat has a perfect record of keeping the pterodactyls away. – Brian Hitchcock May 7 '15 at 10:05
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    @Jez Of course you meant purrrly sentimental... – Jim Mack May 7 '15 at 11:26
  • if the value is purely sentimental, then there's no aesthetic value. – einpoklum May 9 '15 at 20:01

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