Someone that I know is trying to replace a very obsolete item which is currently causing problems with one that is itself obsolete, if not as much so.

I am trying to find a word or succinct phrase to describe this, other than plain daft, and how poor an idea it is.

The sort of thing that I am thinking of is "this is like replacing the planned use of a steam car with a Model-T Ford".

  • 1
    I am eventually looking to describe what a bad idea it is. Mar 9, 2016 at 6:14
  • 2
    Are you looking for a word, or an idiom that means "a weak/poor/outdated/antiquated substitute"? I don't think such a word exists, but an idiom or a proverb might well fit the bill.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 13, 2016 at 12:33
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    It's not an actual idiom so much as one I just came up with, but I think it's fitting enough to be worth suggesting: replacing rust with tarnish. Mar 14, 2016 at 13:59
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    (1 of 2 parts) You've answered my question and I think there's more to it. I see a judgment made here to make a claim. I'm not saying it's invalid but the move from really old to old (or obsolete to kinda obsolete) isn't immediately obvious or intrinsic. Get what mean? But let say it is, a silly thing to do, and get past all the baggage/opinions that follow programmers and their languages. I'm looking at the answers below and I don't see any that work well. Good luck finding something that means upgrading/fixing with something obsolete.
    – user116032
    Mar 15, 2016 at 21:19
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    (2 of 2) If you're trying to make an argument to your boss, don't get cute. Just say it’s not advisable and explain. It's a small world. You aren't going to get anywhere without some sensitivity to those you think are wrong. Notice that real managers never belittle. Be a pro. I’d close the question. I’ll be checking back to see how it ended. Thanks for an interesting question.
    – user116032
    Mar 15, 2016 at 21:19

16 Answers 16


Perhaps humorously

  • "out of the fire and into the frying pan"

A reversal of the usual idiom. It doesn't capture the outdatedness aspect, but does represent substituting a bad situation with something less bad but still unacceptable.

Perhaps your "steam car" to "Model T" idea could work if you have a specific intended audience in mind, who can be expected to be familiar with some specific domain. For instance:

  • It's like upgrading from Betamax to VHS, and we're in 2016 already.
  • It's like upgrading from Windows 95 to XP, and we're in 2016 already.
  • It's like upgrading from a manual typewriter to an electric typewriter when what you really need is a word processor.

However, these might leave millenials mystified if they're part of your audience.


  • Instead of bringing a knife to a gunfight, you're bringing a sword. Better but still useless.
  • It's like upgrading from a donkey to a horse when what you really need is a car.

Not exactly pithy, but it could work if you are delivering your argument verbally rather than in writing.

  • +1 I'd say "It's like upgrading XP to Vista or Windows 8" without saying it's 2016. I think that would be easily understood by anyone over the age of 25 years.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2016 at 11:08
  • You possibly don't realize just how many people and businesses do use XP (17% according to this: redmondmag.com/articles/2015/04/08/windows-xp-usage.aspx ), Can't help with the OP's request, except to say that it'd be the opposite of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
    – jamesqf
    Mar 15, 2016 at 19:02
  • @jamesqf but isn't it true that microsoft will stop supporting XP and Vista by the end of this year?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 15, 2016 at 19:15
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    @Mari-LouA They already stopped supporting XP back in April 2014. Vista mainstream support already ended, and its extended support will end in April 2017. Mar 15, 2016 at 23:29
  • @Mari-Lou A: I think that's true, though I use Linux. But the point I was trying to make is that an old, unsupported system that does what you need it to do is far better than a brand new one that doesn't. Kind of the same reason I have a 34 year old HP-12C calculator on my desk :-)
    – jamesqf
    Mar 16, 2016 at 4:15

I am seriously considering going with one of:

  • Replacing Fossilized with Superannuated
  • Upgrading from forgotten to merely unsupported
  • Updating to only just before the millennium
  • Replacing Pterodactyl Pie with Dodo Pie
  • Running Up a Down Escalator
  • Cashing in tickets for the Ark in exchange for ones for the Titanic

I am, however, inclining towards describing it as "Sisyphean Progress" - denoting a pointless task that is foredoomed by its very nature.

Update & Conclusion

After much thought I have decided to go with referring to it as "Another Maginot Line" - for any that are not familiar with that bit of history the Maginot Line was a French defensive construction that cost a fortune, looked impressive and had been obsolete before construction began so was worse than useless so I think that this captures what I was looking for very well.

Thanks to all of those that contributed.


Consider harebrained,

(adj.) Having or showing little sense; foolish: a harebrained scheme/idea.

Usage Note: The first recorded use of harebrained dates to 1548. The spelling hairbrained also has a long history, going back to the 1500s when hair was a variant spelling of hare. The hair variant was preserved in Scotland into the 1700s, and as a result it is impossible to tell exactly when people began writing hairbrained in the belief that the word means "having a hair-sized brain" rather than "with no more sense than a hare." While hairbrained continues to be used, the standard spelling of the word is harebrained.

[The Free Dictionary]

Usage example:

Replacing a very obsolete item which is currently causing problems with one that is itself obsolete sounds like a harebrained idea to me

  • Harebrained captures the thinking but not the obsolescence itself. Mar 9, 2016 at 7:48

The proverb "the cure is worse than the disease " comes to mind:

  • (figuratively) The solution or proposed solution to a problem produces a worse net result than the problem does (or threatens a non-negligible risk of doing so), especially via unintended consequences.


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    Doesn't really fit, since here the cure is better than the disease, but only slightly. Mar 15, 2016 at 11:12

If it's possible based on your specific situation, I'd go with poking fun at the inadequacy of the solution by placing it into a decade or year.

Some examples:

He wants to replace his LP record collection with CDs instead of mp3s or a music streaming service. So he's moving out of the 1950s--into the 1990s!

He used to present on posterboards. Now he's decided to use--voila!--an overhead projector. It's such a 1960s solution.

Instead of a handshake, he's decided to modernize, not with a fistbump, but with a high five. Welcome to 1983.

Let me know if any of those work for you.


You could say that the repair is a

half-measure - something that is done in a way that is not complete or is only partly effective

(which has perhaps evolved into half-assed)

or say that the failing item has merely been

warmed-over - reworked or repeated without enthusiasm or introduction of new ideas

or perhaps

scraping the bottom of the barrel - to use the ​worst ​people or things because that is all that is ​available

  • OK in the sense of poorly done but not capturing the essence of replacing broke with nearly as broke. Mar 10, 2016 at 6:25
  • @SteveBarnes "Not much of an upgrade" also comes to mind.
    – stevesliva
    Mar 10, 2016 at 6:36

(It's) six of one, (and) half a dozen of the other

two things are almost the same or equal I also compared the two stereos, and in most respects it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Etymology: based on the idea that half a dozen ( half of 12) is equal to six

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms

It's like trading the devil for the deep blue sea

between the devil and the deep blue sea

having only two very unpleasant choices between a rock and a hard place

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms


I am replacing the steam car with a Model-T Ford (which itself is already deprecated).

(be deprecated) (Chiefly of a software feature) be usable but regarded as obsolete and best avoided, typically because it has been superseded:

this feature is deprecated and will be removed in later versions (as adjective deprecated)

avoid the deprecated element that causes text to flash on and off

-- http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/deprecate

Or a few more from software world which I discounted as they don't really get across the solution is out-of-date.

It is just a kludge.
It is just a stop gap solution.
It is just a fudge.
It is just a hack.
It is just temporary workaround.


To address the notion of “little or no change/improvement,” you could consider trying to somehow find a way to use the fairly idiomatic “maintaining/replacing the status quo,” perhaps sarcastically, if that's appropriate, together with an appropriate quip, for example:

Congratulations, you’ve succeeded in replacing the status quo with [essentially] the same old thing;
Congratulations, you’ve succeeded in replacing the statu quo with the status quo;
I’m sure the two percent are pleased with your efforts to maintain the status quo; or
With change like that who needs the status quo.

status quo noun (usually the status quo)
The existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues:
“they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”
(definition from Oxford Dictionaries, but not the 4 sarcastic "usage examples")

For an option that doesn’t explicitly mention “the status quo” and whose sarcasm is a bit more subtle, you could perhaps comment on such an upgrade as follows:

Your recent upgrade gives literal meaning to the old adage about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

(cf: the original French version and its accepted figurative/philosophical meaning below from ‘Dictionary of Unfamiliar Words by Diagram Group’ via ‘The Free Dictionary by Farlex’)

plus ça change
A French phrase, shortened from plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, meaning the more it changes the more it remains the same, used to imply that apparent change to something is merely superficial and does not affect its essence.

Your recently added list of options under consideration, especially the “… forgotten to merely unsupported” one prompts me to offer “[Your old car is] gone but not forgotten” (not in the standard, "we'll always remember our fallen heroes" sense, but in the strained sense that the old item and its problems are gone but the barely improved, similarly old replacement will be a constant reminder of them), which in turn leads to the less idiomatic variation “[Your old car is] gone, but just barely” (again, not in the more obvious “just recently” sense, but rather in the admittedly strained sense of “not really”).
(similar non-standard, albeit not totally related example usage of “Gone but not forgotten” from ‘beaut[dot]ie’ and slightly out of context use of “gone but not really” from ‘Writing Back: American Expatriates' Narratives of Return’ by Susan Winnett, via ‘Google Books’)


He is inching his way into the 21st century (If you want to be ruder, the 20th century.)

You could use this to refer to the specific technology that is being upgraded, for example if he is replacing some item of computer technology:

He is inching his way into the Internet

From the Free Dictionary by Farlex, inching means:

To move or cause to move slowly or by small degrees: inching along through stalled traffic; inched the chair forward


Consider using

redundant - characterized by similarity or repetition.

or even

superflous - obsolete; marked by wastefulness.

  • Actually in engineering we often consider redundancy a good thing unless talking about jobs as in providing a back-up for a critical system. Mar 14, 2016 at 4:43

This idea may be outmoded,antiquated or antediluvian. Replacing something with an passé substitute is a slow anterograde at best. An out-of-date concept makes a poor substitute for a completely obsolete one. The solution is completely anachronistic.


It might not be the exact idea your are after but it is not a different one altogether either… As usual, The Bard has something for you: (from Shakespeare's 'Cressida', act III, scene 3)

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, / That all with one consent praise new-born gawds, / Though they are made and moulded of things past, / And give to dust that is a little gilt / More laud than gilt o'er-dusted.

All the worth that a supposedly 'new' idea has lies in its newness, in its not appearing to be old, even if it is.

So your colleague is replacing 'over-dusted gilt' with 'dust a little gilt', which only seems better but is definitely not!

Trying to find a current phrase to capture the idea better than Shakespeare's phrase did would be 'giving to dust that is a little gilt more laud than gilt over-dusted'! (la boucle est bouclée! = we have come full circle!)



One step forward, two steps back.

something that you say which means every time you make progress, something bad happens which causes you to be in a worse situation than you were to begin with

"Every solution we come up with seems to create more problems than it solves, so it's one step forward, two steps back."

Not sure if this is suitable where there's actually a slight improvement by the replacement.


Maybe this will come close to the meaning of making a bad choice (for replacement.)

back the wrong horse

Fig. to support someone or something that cannot win or succeed.

"I don't want to back the wrong horse, but it seems to me that Jed is the better candidate."

"Fred backed the wrong horse in the budget hearings."


Here are two ad-hoc phrases that seem like a reasonably good fit:

"Robbing the graveyard again, I see?" (sort-of reference to "robbing the cradle", a phrase for marrying someone decidedly younger than oneself).

"Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a mortuary makeup artist." (sort-of reference to the signature "I'm a doctor, not ..." phrase of Star Trek's McCoy).

  • 1
    Welcome to English Language & Usage! Please try to suggest answers that are actual phrases, not just ad-hoc ones that you invented. And if you are suggesting new nonexistent phrases, they should fit the user's idea with a clear link, not just a tenuous similarity. Mar 16, 2016 at 10:48

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