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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
    Commented May 7, 2015 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. Commented May 7, 2015 at 12:16
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    We have a "decorator cat"
    – Ex Umbris
    Commented May 7, 2015 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
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 22:42
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    I don't understand the context. How can a cat be "worthless"? Commented May 10, 2015 at 1:28

11 Answers 11

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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
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 13:20
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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
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 21:39
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    @jamesqf i would say, then, that your vet is attractive (and NOT ornamental).
    – Erich
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 6:00
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    Shouldn't that have been purrly ornamental?
    – jxh
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 6:22
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    @NVZ Personally, I didn't prefer it. The terrible screenshot was intentional from day 1 of this answer, and was part of its (ironic) charm. But, on the other hand, I wasn't going to step on your toes either. But if you want my opinion, I prefer the answer the way it was before you edit.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 22:17
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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
    Commented May 9, 2015 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
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 6:06
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    I agree with @erich , but it is a lovely word.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 9, 2015 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
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 21:31
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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
    Commented May 8, 2015 at 16:58
  • First I've ever seen pretty defined with (often pejorative). +1 for that, i guess Commented May 10, 2015 at 13:17
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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

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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
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 20:10
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    Commenting on public figures seems legit to me. We all knew exactly what he meant.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 14:07
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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.

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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)

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  • Gold is more impressive or dazzling than beautiful, I would say. I don't think calling something gilded implies it's beautiful.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 20:02
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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

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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

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  • Can you use that in a sentence please?
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 20:02
  • 18th century English gardens often feature beautiful and elaborate follies.
    – Nobilis
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 21:07
  • Hmpph... Can you use that as the subject in a sentence without 'beautiful' or a similar adjective? :-)
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 9, 2015 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
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 12:21
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    Well, I guess you earned your +1 (grumble).
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 10, 2015 at 15:07
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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. Commented May 7, 2015 at 10:05
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    @Jez Of course you meant purrrly sentimental...
    – Jim Mack
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 11:26
  • if the value is purely sentimental, then there's no aesthetic value.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 9, 2015 at 20:01

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