I will provide definitions for which I can't think of the word:

  • as though not trying one's best
  • having the appearance of little effort

The word is used to describe something that you look at and think, "They're not really trying."

I remember thinking this is a good vocab word, and darn it, I forgot it. This has been driving me crazy all day.

  • How about slapdash? (means hasty, careless, haphazard)
    – ermanen
    May 20, 2015 at 16:08
  • 2
    You said "darn", so I guess my vulgar answer is out.
    – Mazura
    May 20, 2015 at 17:44
  • lol, astute observation. May 21, 2015 at 18:32

11 Answers 11


How about doing something half-heartedly?

without enthusiasm or effort

I half-heartedly joined a gym to get fit.

Or a half-hearted attempt.

Synonyms include:


EDIT: The word the OP was looking for is:


(Of an action) carried out without real interest, feeling, or effort:

  • 3
    perfunctory! This is the word I was looking for, and now I remember that I heard it in the movie Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (American version), when the girl says her case manager's report seemed "perfunctory, like your heart wasn't in it". Everyone else's answers were also good, but this one got me the exact word I was looking for. Thanks! May 20, 2015 at 16:17
  • 1
    @bloodymurderlive: Interestingly, I remember this word from 2½ Men. Alan uses the word, and Jake, not knowing what it means, says that it'd make a cool stage name. Emcee Perfunctory!
    – Tushar Raj
    May 20, 2015 at 20:00
  • it's also just a common english phrase, period. you should hear/see it plenty in everyday speech and writing.
    – user428517
    May 20, 2015 at 22:53

How about lackadaisical?

Lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy

The effort from the players was lackadaisical at best.

  • Good one. Upvoted.
    – Tushar Raj
    May 20, 2015 at 14:37

If a metaphoric term would work, consider phoning it in

(informal) Work or perform in a perfunctory or unenthusiastic manner.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • This also had the word I was looking for in it. May 23, 2015 at 1:20

Sandbagging is another option if the underperforming appears intentional. In sports this can happen when there are prizes to be won in the lower leagues.

"I got creamed in the B-league championship by a damned sandbagger."


My personal favourite would be

lukewarm: (Of a person, attitude, or action) unenthusiastic.

Then, other possibilities are:

desultory: Lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.

laodicean: Half-hearted or indifferent, especially with respect to religion or politics


slacker(n): a person who avoids work or effort.
synonyms: layabout · idler · shirker · malingerer · sluggard · laggard



Lacking in vitality, force, or conviction; uninspired or uninspiring:

No excuses were made for the team’s lackluster performance.

  • "Lackluster" is more about the results than the effort. If you're not skilled or experienced enough at something, you can try really hard and still get a lackluster result.
    – Jander
    May 20, 2015 at 17:39

Going down the 'half' route, there's a rather vulgar British equivalent for it: half-arsed.

a half-arsed attempt to do something lacks energy and enthusiasm

I made a half-arsed attempt to write the introduction and then went back to bed.

Source: TheFreeDictionary

  • 1
    There's an equivalent American version which can be used to describe a end result, not just the effort that went into it. A 'half-assed introduction' might have taken significant effort to create, but still suck.
    – Joe
    May 21, 2015 at 11:30
  • 1
    I believe that's also valid in BrE, you can describe something that is shoddy or to a very poor standard as half-arsed.
    – Nobilis
    May 21, 2015 at 14:17

Almost all of the answers here seem to be about the effort that went into production, but the question mentions 'used to describe something' not 'someone'.

As such, I would likely go with shoddy, which doesn't get into the motivations of the person making it (half-hearted, slacking). Shoddy works to describe manufactured items that might be inferior due to a lack of skill, lack of or a rushed effort, poor choice of materials, improper techniques, or anything else that might affect the quality.

It can be used for both tangible and intangible products (eg, a shoddy website, or shoddy customer service)


I very much like the word "lethargic".

  • 2
    Hello, Ross M. and welcome to English Language & Usage. You could make your answer more authoritative by including a definition of lethargic from a recognized reference book and by identifying what you find especially suitable about that word. Thanks!
    – Sven Yargs
    May 21, 2015 at 6:16

Even though the question has been already answered, I would still like to draw your attention to one of the favourite expressions of mine. I believe that this expression comes close to half-hearted. However rather than referring to the action of being unwilling to actually work on a thing, it refers to its outcome. The product of such an attitude can be described as half-baked.

A definition from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

poorly developed or carried out, for example half–baked research

  • Thank you, I think this does convey the same or similar idea. I suppose "perfunctory" conveys something slightly more specific about the person (not putting their heart into it), I think, while half-baked could be the result of laziness, disinterest, or incompetence. Something perfunctory could also be half-baked, but half-baked may not always be perfunctory. One may put a great deal of heart into a project that they can only half-finish. May 23, 2015 at 0:59

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