93

I'm looking for an idiom to describe someone who decides to take up a new hobby, then buys an excessive amount of gear before they've even started. Perhaps they believe they need this gear to master the hobby, or that having the gear will make them better at it.

For example: someone decides they're going to learn how to play guitar. They buy a top-shelf guitar, a half-stack amplifier, a graphic equalizer, effects pedals, direct boxes, and a gig bag full of gadgets. Eric Clapton might be jealous of their equipment, but they haven't even learned how to play one chord yet.

Another example might be someone who decides they're going to try to get in shape, so they go out and buy a multi-station gym, an expensive bicycle, a heart-rate tracker, top of the line athletic clothes, but they can't even walk a mile without fainting.

How do I put this insanity into words?

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    To a certain extent, I'd call them 'sensible', or perhaps even 'frugal', since in the long run it's usually cheaper to buy quality goods that cheap junk that you end up having to replace in a year or two. But of course this requires enough experience to know what's quality, and necessary, rather than - like Lycra bike clothes - just for show. – jamesqf Jul 6 '15 at 19:28
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    I agree that buying for life is usually a better option in the long run, and definitely more cost effective, though I feel there is something inherently foolish in spending that kind of money upfront when you don't know for sure that you'll stick with it. – justinashleylawii Jul 6 '15 at 19:35
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    Try "more money than brains". – Pieter Geerkens Jul 7 '15 at 1:55
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    Just saying: Buying a good quality music instrument instead of a cheap one is a good idea for a learner, because the good instrument is likely easier to play. – gnasher729 Jul 7 '15 at 8:54
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    @PieterGeerkens or if you like puns, "More dollars than sense" (sense sounds like "cents"). – Andrew Grimm Jul 8 '15 at 0:44

23 Answers 23

128

In British English there is a common colloquialism:

"All the gear, no idea"

It describes your requirements perfectly: novices who splash out on expensive equipment but who lack the aptitude to use it properly or even to perform satisfactorily in the subject endeavour.

Unfortunately, I can't find a reputable reference work to back up my claim but, as a native Brit and current UK resident, I can assure you that this phrase is well established and popularly understood.

However, I can provide some evidence that the phrase is in use by quoting this Telegraph newspaper article.

In it, the author (a Telegraph journalist) recounts his first experience on a racing yacht (emphasis mine).

Well out of my comfort zone, even my attire was a giveaway – brand-new thermals and squeaky-clean boat shoes. The phrase “all the gear, no idea” sprang to mind.

[...]

“Have you sailed before?” asked my skipper, Emily, as I clung to the guardrail wire.

“I lived on a narrowboat last summer,” I replied. “Does that count?”

“Not really,” she said with a smile.

The Telegraph is a well-regarded newspaper in the UK, so the phrases it publishes could certainly be considered acceptable, commonly-used English.


EDIT: Even the venerable BBC seems to use the phrase, as seen in a recent article about cycling (emphasis mine):

Yes, there are the oft-derided "middle-aged-men in Lycra" spending their disposable on flashy steeds instead of sports cars and motorbikes. Sneered at by the old guard for having "all the gear, no idea".


The urban dictionary gives an accurate (if poorly written) definition:

This is when you see people (mainly middle aged men) walking around an amateur golf range with all the equipment that has probably set them back a small fortune, however, they haven't even played before and [are] completely useless, yet they have still spent all that money.

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    You're welcome :) I'm happy to be contributing to the spread of good British idioms! – Charon Jul 6 '15 at 18:58
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    @StephenRasku @stevesliva - yes, Google tells me that all hat and no cattle means something different to all the gear, no idea. The former means 'Full of big talk but lacking action'. In that sense, it is synonymous with the British phrase all mouth and no trousers. – Charon Jul 6 '15 at 19:51
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    @Oldbag - just start using it yourself and with luck it'll take root and become an American one – Charon Jul 6 '15 at 20:26
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    This rhymes better with a British pronunciation than an American pronunciation (in general). – 200_success Jul 7 '15 at 7:18
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    Another British version which is vulgar is all the kit, still shit. – simbo1905 Jul 8 '15 at 19:48
56

In America, the slang is "All hat and no cattle", referring to a (Texas) cowboy with a big hat but no ranch. It extends to people who talk "big" but have no real experience.

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    +1 for youtube.com/watch?v=hdgcyT_nsBA, but the OP is describing something almost the opposite, somebody who has all the relevant property ("cattle") but no business representing himself as an experienced owner ("hat"). – deadrat Jul 6 '15 at 20:46
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    @deadrat, Not exactly the opposite, some people buy gear or clothing to try and give other people the impression that they have property, experience or proficiency. – Brent Washburne Jul 6 '15 at 21:35
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    @deadrat you're not an owner without the cattle. but you can always buy the hat. the hat is the "gear" – shadowtalker Jul 7 '15 at 13:39
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    In this aphorism, though, the cattle aren't really referring to the gear, but to the work and experience involved in herding them. It's more of a "big talk but no real-world experience" sort of saying, whereas the OP is looking for a "kitted-out but green as a sunburned potato" phrase. – hBy2Py Jul 7 '15 at 14:36
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    I've heard this as, "Big hat, no cattle"; urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=big+hat%2C+no+cattle – rajah9 Jul 7 '15 at 18:24
44

Another term might be a Poseur (Wikipedia):

Poseur (or poser) is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to describe a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.

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    I really don't think it has to do with what OP means. in particular, poser usually refers to fans of a certain subculture - or, actually, people who pretend to be fans to gain something - not musicians. If you are in a band you are almost by definition not a poser, not matter how bad you suck. – Tobia Tesan Jul 7 '15 at 21:10
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    This is the first word I'd use in this context. I've always considered it as coming out of skater culture, although never was a skater myself. While it is more about "dress, speech, and/or mannerism", when you get to skaters and surfers, "dress" includes gear. Although it works for both of OP's examples, it fits the first musician example better since musicianship is more of a clearly defined subculture than the second, which seems to be general fitness. – joseph_morris Jul 9 '15 at 20:12
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    @joseph_morris: "Poser" does absolutely not work in reference to a musician who buys tons of uselss gear. Does not work means that a musician would not understand you if you said "Jim is a poseur" to mean that he has a truck full of useless gear and he plays once a month in the pub down the road. He would interpret it as "being in a Metallica cover band without actually owning a single album besides St Anger" or something like that, and even that is a stretch. If you want a quick acid test go to Musicians Stack Exchange and see how you fare :) I know precious little about surf, though. – Tobia Tesan Jul 10 '15 at 12:54
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    For me "poser" carries a heavy connotation of "pretender", someone who gets all the kit and wants everyone to think they're an expert already, whereas the question reads to me more like someone who has aspirations of being awesome, thinking having top of line gear will get them there faster (or at all). – matt wilkie Jul 10 '15 at 20:40
  • @TobiaTesan, you have focused on a narrow class of musician who buys top music gear for themselves. In my mind, they are narcissistic -- they are posing for themselves. Thus the label still applies. – Brent Washburne Jul 11 '15 at 15:17
41

Get ahead of oneself may suggest the idea:

  • Fig. [for someone] to do or say something sooner than it ought to be done so that the proper explanation or preparations have not been made.
    • When he bought a new little bicycle before the baby was born, he was getting ahead of himself.

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.)

  • Great minds think alike! I was thinking of what I would say to the person described by the OP. I'd probably say, "OK. Calm down. Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Or possibly, to the wannabe guitarist, "The quality of your playing is certainly not commensurate with the quality of your equipment." – rhetorician Jan 12 '16 at 23:29
33

Don't try to run before you can walk kind of fits here, though probably not 100%.

Generally, I'd use it more for beginners trying to do stuff that requires advanced ability though (e.g. like trying to start out playing slide guitar rather than simple chords) rather than buying the best equipment right off the bat, but here's it used in that way from a model aircraft website:

Don’t try to run before you can walk!

It gets expensive....Like starting anything new in life, it’s always best to begin “at the beginning”, just like you’d be rather foolish buying Ferrari a day after passing your driving test, you’d be equally foolish buying that shiny new all singing all dancing 150mph Jet you can see on that modelling website for your first aircraft!

  • Its famously (IMO!) parodied by Tony Stark, "sometimes you gotta run before you can walk" – Jesvin Jose Jul 7 '15 at 6:50
  • There are also several variations on "... crawl before you walk." – Hot Licks Dec 29 '15 at 13:51
30

A more idiomatic term for getting ahead of one's self is putting the cart before the horse.

Fig. to have things in the wrong order; to have things confused and mixed up.

I think it's apropos for your example because it builds an analogy of the things of doing a task.

You booked the tour bus for your band before your first guitar lesson? Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?

23

go overboard

To go to extremes, especially as a result of enthusiasm. (TFD)

To do something too much, or to be too excited or eager about something: (cambridge-dictionary)

He packed the whole kit and caboodle.

“Kit and caboodle” is a slang expression, dating back to the mid-19th century, meaning “everything” or “all of it”

  • The “kit” in “kit and caboodle” is fairly straightforward, “kit” being an 18th century English slang term for “outfit” or “collection,” as in a soldier’s “kit bag,” which contained supplies (and often all his worldly possessions).
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    This referrs to having a complete set of equipment rather than having better equipment than having equipment well above that deemed appropriate for your proficiency. – Phill Healey Jul 7 '15 at 8:38
20

Gearhead:

Here it is used in a musical context, but I have also heard it in the context of talking about outdoor equipment.

A musician (most common in guitarists and drummers) who spends more time reading about and buying gear than they actually spend playing music. Gear heads think that by spitting out a flood of brand names and model numbers to their friends that they will sound more intelligent than they actually are. Also, they hope their new equipment will compensate for their lack of practice. Truthfully it shows they spend too much time on the toilet reading "Musicians Friend".

Gear head (Urban Dictionary)

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    I'd dispute the Urban Dictionary definition; in my experience being a gearhead is independent of skill level. – joseph_morris Jul 9 '15 at 19:59
18

During the 70s skateboard era, there used to be a regular flow of kids into the skatepark where Dad had kitted them out from head-to-foot in all the best gear then dumped them into the park and driven off. They could barely ride a skateboard at all. To the rest of us, they were known as "gremlins" and I still use the term in that context to this day.

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    This is fantastic information! – L0j1k Jul 9 '15 at 5:29
18

In the IT sector, I have heard the expression "a fool with a tool is still a fool". As English is not my mother tongue I don't know how idiomatic it is to apply it to other areas mentioned in this question.

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    I've never heard this one before, but I like it! – Caleb Jul 9 '15 at 3:26
16

Among musicians it is said that that person would have GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

It's a colloquialism - and a very specific to the music-making community one, but almost universally understood therein.

Then there is the very vulgar gear slut.

  • GAS isn't about what the OP is asking for, though - competent musicians do that too, and usually only start doing it AFTER getting to a point where they could make use of it (even if they haven't gotten around to it just yet). – fluffy Jul 7 '15 at 21:02
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    Eh, I've always perceived GAS as something weekend musicians do to compensate for the crappy gigs they get - the word "syndrome" means pathological, and I don't see it as pathological for U2 to go on tour with trailers filled with equipment, it's just what you do when you play stadiums. You say "Pete has such a bad case of GAS, he bought a $2000 vintage amp that he won't be even able to crank up at the local pub anyway", not "David Bowie has GAS, he bought John Lennon's piano at an auction", right? Anyway - I thought it could have been helpful and usable in context. – Tobia Tesan Jul 7 '15 at 21:06
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    I've heard it far more often in the photographic community, where it's easily possible to spend over a hundred grand and fit what you bought into the trunk of your compact car. – bye Jul 8 '15 at 11:22
12

In the military, we use the term gear ninja to indicate someone that has all the bells-and-whistles equipment, but has no experience in the activity. This is especially common in military units that have a support mission instead of a combat mission. Approximately 90% of the US Army is in a support role of some kind, meaning only 10% of US Army soldiers actually have a combat role. Some people want to be commandos, and have all the equipment an inexperienced person would think a commando has, but spends all of their time behind a desk, never being exposed to combat (or having the possibility of being exposed to combat -- even in a war zone -- because of their job).

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    And in the civilian world we call them "mall ninjas." – feetwet Jul 10 '15 at 2:58
9

Within the gun shooting hobby in the US there is the phrase "tacticool" which is a portmanteu of "tactical" and "cool" referring to someone who has a bunch of accessories that are supposedly professional but make the person's loadout burdensome, unpractical, and foolish looking. I've recently heard it being borrowed to apply used applied to swords and armor as well. Within the niche of combat or weapons it is the common term.

7

In cycling parlance, this person would be known as a Fred, as in this example.

I would also suggest the term Wannabe.

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    I think that this answer could do with some citation to support its claims. Can you point the reader to a reference which would prove that cyclists refer to such people as freds? – Charon Jul 7 '15 at 10:46
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    AKA "weekend warriors". I also call them "cycling dads" because usually they're older men – shadowtalker Jul 7 '15 at 13:40
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    @charon, no. No citation necessary. They are called Freds. It's a fact. Another term for a cyclist with more money than proficiency is "dentist." – Darth Egregious Jul 10 '15 at 19:41
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    As a former Fred myself, I think you've got it backwards. Fred is the guy that drops the $5000 bikes 10 miles from the finish line and wins wearing cut-offs and tennies. Probably still has the gear rack, pannier frames, and headlight generator on his bike. Which is why he has 22" thighs, 25" waist, and 28bmp resting pulse rate - he rides the damn thing 300 miles per week, mostly at 20+ mph, and the bike shows it. I mean why bother taking all that stuff off for a 100 mile ride that he'll finish in less than four hours? Besides, he'll need the headlight to get home from the softball game later. – Phil Sweet Jul 22 '18 at 0:31
5

All dressed up and/with nowhere to go:

that has been postponed or has failed to materialize. (May be literal or figurative.)
Tom: I just heard that your company is closed today.
Fred: Gee, I'm all dressed up and nowhere to go.

The space shot was cancelled, so all the astronauts are all dressed up with nowhere to go.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.

This expression implies the opinion that they will probably not use all of that expensive equipment when they discover how hard it actually is to use the basic equipment.

4

Too much money, not enough sense.

I would simply say over-equipped or excessively-provisioned or redundantly-supplied (mix 'em up as you will). We are talking over abundance.

More and more I am seeing people that are not buying a full set of screwdrivers or spanners, but only the ones they will conceivably need, and then the best possible example available. Is having a 4mm ring spanner excessive because it came in a set ?

In having the proper gear, they already demonstrate some proficiency. It is said that a poor tradesman blames his tools, but which is the cause and which is the effect ?

Bike people will tell you that for everyday riding, the weight of the frame makes very little difference, so it is largely status and competitive consumerism that drives people to buy the lightest frame they can afford. The crap people buy for SCUBA diving too. Is is a competition sport.

I may have meandered a bit, but I am showing considerable restraint in not writing several pages upon the subject of market segmentation in technology. (Luxury HDMI cables and the like). You may want to peruse the comments section of relevant forums for more colloquial (vulgar/obscene) descriptions.

  • almost every answer on this page is fantastic – Fattie Jul 10 '15 at 15:17
  • I think it would make your answer better to have the actual suggestions (like "over-equipped", etc) bolded (or visually set off from your discussion in some other way). – msouth Jul 10 '15 at 17:39
4

Neophyte Gear Snob

Gear Snob is generally the term I've heard for folks who must have the very best gear. I've heard this term for multiple hobbies or professions and I've heard it used for people across the range of experience. So it seems natural to just preface it with any synonym for novice. I like Fledgling Gear Snob myself.

  • Looking at some of the other answers you could also use a couple of those. Perhaps "Novice Gear Ninja" or "Apprentice Gear-head." – chuck Jul 10 '15 at 8:09
2

Here's a term that is somewhat specific to gaming but still possibly applicable:

Twinkie/twink: a character typically in an MMO sporting gear well above their level. This scenario crops up in PvP play where level caps are in play meaning one way to give oneself a decided advantage is to acquire uber-gear from a higher-level character (even another character belonging to the player).

This term was likely borrowed from the male homosexual community where it means something slightly different and less relevant to the question: a young man who is all show and vain appearance but no substance.

Although a quick google search turned up plenty of references to the term being used for racial poseurs, the homosexual reference I mentioned, etc. I was unable to find a good reference for the use in gaming. Its a pretty well-known term in the gaming community though.

2

You could say that your person has a "high tackle-to-talent ratio" where "tackle" is a word (used in Britain at least) for gear or equipment as in "fishing tackle" and "wedding tackle". Lends itself to the abbreviations "TTT" and "T-cubed".

I realize this doesn't meet your requirement to indicate someone who is NEW to the field.

2

This question specifically asked for an idiom, and very early on the incredibly apt "all gear no idea" was answered, but classically:

dilettante -

A dilettante is an amateur, often one who pretends to be very knowledgeable.

This word of Latin and Italian origin (the adjectivization of "dilettare" - i.e. "doing recreationally", a relative of the word "delight") is less apt, to be sure, in that it's necessary that the dilettante feign knowledge, while I suppose "all gear no idea" doesn't require that sort of being a poseur as suggested by another answer.

1

In Texas it might be said that the person is "all hat and no cattle". The imagery being that of a city boy dressed up in some chaps, boots and a 10 gallon hat but has probably never even seen a cow.

1

Though I'm not sure whether there is equivalent phrase in English, a Japanese proverb, 鶏を割くに牛刀を用いる-'Use a butcher kife to carve a chickin' sprang to my mind.

-4

all bark no bite, or the the one word that has a negative connotation to it "poser"

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    Not bad suggestions. But you could improve this answer by quoting the definitions of these terms, directly within your answer, from a reputable dictionary or other source (remember to name the source, explicitly). – Dan Bron Jul 8 '15 at 18:46

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