I'm looking for a more formal expression or word that indicates failure to the extent that one would have to work very hard to achieve it. I'm aware of the idiom "epic fail" but I'm looking for something not as common, casual, or unkind. [Edit/question augmentation]: An example might be getting a negative score on a test for which a "zero" score was previously thought to be the worst outcome.
I've seen media use the term spectacular failure for something that really failed:
http://www.wired.com/1999/12/a-century-of-spectacular-failure/ https://www.entrepreneur.com/video/274191 http://www.fastcompany.com/3026253/dialed/5-famous-entrepreneurs-who-learned-from-their-first-spectacular-failures http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/peggy-nash/ndp-needs-leader-who-can-inspire_b_9619998.html
to crash and burn
- Lit. [for a plane or car] to crash and burst into flames. The small plane crashed and burned just after it took off.
- Fig. to fail spectacularly. Poor Chuck really crashed and burned when he made his presentation at the sales meeting.
The current neologism is omnishambles.
It describes a failure situation which has absolutely no redeeming features.
Originally used in a BBC political drama "The Thick Of It", it has been used in Parliament to describe Government policy.
The Oxford English Dictionary gave it the title "Word of the Year" in 2012.
I'll offer magnificent failure. It shows up occasionally. It appears in the Royal Society's Proceedings.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Volume 54
That would be George Green, btw. Virtually unknown outside of Cambridge during his lifetime, his mathematical discoveries ended up underpinning classical mechanics for a century.
I'd suggest "abysmal":
extremely bad; appalling