I'm looking for a single word or two words that would describe a bad company/firm or place of work. It could be bad working environment and/or place that produces bad results.

If possible the word should be non-archaic and not belong to a very concrete type of company (like horse-stall-keepers or radio-controlling that would not have place in the modern world as much ). It would be great if the word would be understandable by today's native English speaker (American or British) without looking into a dictionary ( something that was in common use no longer than 100 years ago hopefully! ).

Examples of use:

Why did you join XXX, you know it's a ______.

Don't mess this project up, or we'll be known as a _______ [company]!

XXX takes pride in what it produces, we're not some ________ [company]!

The word/phrase can incorporate the meaning that it's a company or to be used as an adjective.


I want a very strong, powerful word, that would mean the place is really a hell-hole of firms. While amateurish or incompetent has a flavor of being bad - not all amateur companies are bad. I also don't mind common sayings like in Russian it could be something like "шарашкина контора" that has a meaning of a firm being untrustworthy, not serious, shady etc. Or similar.

I would also like to avoid words that doesn't mean that the company is bad but rather illegal or simply incompetent. I want to find a word or a common phrase that would mean a bad organisation. A synonym for "bad company" if you will.

  • Bad company, works best here. You don't need any other word for that. :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 9:51
  • @NVZ bad, terrible, horrible doesn't cut it. I need a word that would be less used but still known. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 9:53
  • 1
    @CreativeMagic Is this question with regard to companies or you just want synonyms for extremely bad? Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:05
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    There are simply too many words to consider.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 12:22
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    The problem is that a company may be "bad" for a hundred different reasons, and the appropriate descriptive term would depend very much on what makes it bad.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 21:42

9 Answers 9


I've worked there; it's a hellhole; a real snake pit.

  • OP already used it in his question. Anyway, +1 :)
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 27, 2016 at 16:15

Maybe "second-rate" would work here - as this could equally apply to the way the company is managed, the quality of the work, the work environment, or the company as a whole?

It is negative, though perhaps not negative enough for what you need?

Merriam-Webster's definition is

not very good : of ordinary or inferior quality

  • Or for emphasis, third-rate (or fourth-rate; an extreme form would be nth rate, at least for the mathematically inclined) Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 14:30


From M-W:

fly–by–night noun

Definition of fly–by–night

2 : one without established reputation or standing; especially : a shaky business enterprise

Your examples:

Why did you join XXX, you know it's a fly-by-night.

Don't mess this project up, or we'll be known as a fly-by-night [company]!

XXX takes pride in what it produces, we're not some fly-by-night [company]!


Would "sweatshop" work in your context?

I believe it to be fairly ubiquitously used to negatively describe a firm with poor working conditions.

Just in case: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweatshop


“Hostile Work Environment” is the phrase usually used in professional settings. It has a legal meaning and a colloquial one, both of which capture the wrongness of a bad company.

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    Hello, 282. I think this is probably the best, most idiomatic answer (even though OP may not agree). Add a reference or two (including an example from a dictionary if you can find one) and you should be upvoted. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 11:44

I'd prefer to use "bad company" itself.

It meets all your requirements: single word or two words, bad working environment or produces bad results, non-archaic, does not belong to a very concrete type of company, and understandable by today's native English speaker.

Bad companyTFD

Unsavory people (for one to spend time with).

"You are keeping some bad company these days, Bill, and if you get arrested, I am not bailing you out!"
"My mom thinks my new friends are bad company, but I'm having so much fun with them!"

  • The definitions are inappropriate. Also, OP gives 'bad company'. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:35
  • @EdwinAshworth Inappropriate how? Also, I'm aware that OP gave 'bad company', which is why I explained why I'd still use that.
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:37
  • OP is asking for the commercial usage. / SWR's, if acceptable at all, can't be answered without a novel suggestion. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:42
  • @NVZ thank you for your input, but I'm actually looking for synonym or at least a different way to write it. "Bad company" doesn't work for me. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 11:24

For the sentences given I'd be inclined to use incompetent/amateurish.

  • You must add some dictionary definitions to explain why you'd be inclined to use these words.
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:04
  • I'm sorry, you are absolutely right :) I will do so when I get home.
    – Altmeans
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 10:08

Does the word lowbred works here??


Meaning: lacking refinement or grace

Another suggestion is 'below par' Meaning not upto the standards

  • I'd say that lowbred sounds slightly archaic and rings back to a discriminatory class-based system. While it may be an appropriate word based on its definition, I would hesitate before using it in speech. Also, try adding links to sources backing your point (try to prove me wrong!) as that improves your answer, making it more likely to be up-voted Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 21:35

Consider unethical

Definition: not conforming to approved standards of social or professional behavior; contrary to conscience, morality or law.

Example: Corporate responsibility is not always realized. When companies become larger and extend to a global audience, they are often faced with some very unethical business practices.

EDIT: According to OP's response to comments, the term crappy company is a better fit.

What I’ve found over the past 20 years of interviewing is that while I love talking to people that worked at really great companies, I hire more people that have worked at really bad companies. You see, while you learn some really good stuff working for great companies, I think people actually learn more working for really crappy companies! (source)

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