There is a quote:

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

I'd like to use a term that is devoid of negative connotation for those "ways that won't work". Terms like "mistake", "failure", "dead end" and so on lack the positive angle I'm looking for. What kind of language can I use for such attempts that didn't pan out?

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    If you are looking for other idioms, please add "idiom-request", "phrase-request" and "proverb-request" tags. I don't think there is a single word. – user140086 Jan 28 '16 at 15:25
  • I can't express enough how the term I'm looking for must not be composed of other negative or perhaps non-positive terms. Positive language makes a world of difference, and I'm looking for an angle where if I look at a list of these items, that the title of the list will inherently paint its items as positive. – skia.heliou Jan 28 '16 at 15:32
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    The fundamental problem with "the title of the list will inherently paint these items as positive" is the items were not positive. If they were positive, you would not have continued until one of the attempts was successful. You could call them trials, but the successful attempt was also a trial, the distinguishing characteristic of the other attempts is they didn't work. – Dan Bron Jan 28 '16 at 15:38
  • Adding some context could really help here, variations, deviations, departures, disgressions, and diverergences all may imply what you're looking for and all may or may not have positive or neutral connotations in certain fields. – Josh Rumbut Jan 28 '16 at 15:58
  • @DanBron Except, for me, they were positive. You may not find them positive, which I respect, but for me this is part of changing my personal culture by using positive labels and focus. I only lack the language... – skia.heliou Jan 28 '16 at 16:14

Experiment can be put to service here.

Something like, "We did that experiment and it [didn't work / worked well]" fills out the sentiment with the positive or negative, depending on what happened, demonstrating that the first half isn't leading one way or the other.

to try or test, especially in order to discover or prove something


I have succeeded in eliminating 10,000 potential pitfalls. The only further step is to identify the best course to take.

  • This is good, but I'm looking for a short term. – skia.heliou Feb 8 '16 at 14:54

For me, it's going to be observations. @jimm101 got me on track with experiment. Many (now non-existent) comments helped as well. I feel that the term is sufficiently non-negative and that it's informative enough for myself and others to glean the meaning. Thank you!

  • Though I think this could be expanded really... – skia.heliou Feb 8 '16 at 16:28

Two more alternatives are "trials" and "attempts". "Shackelton made a number of attempts to reach the South Pole." "To date our trials have not produced a successful fusion reactor."


You can say “tries.” It’s the positive way of saying “fails.” Instead of focusing on the failure of each unsuccessful attempt, you are focusing on the trying behind each unsuccessful attempt.

So your quote:

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

… would suggest:

I still haven't found a solution after 10,000 tries.

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