Context: I asked a mid-level state education official (Mr. A) to forward all the state ed memos he receives via email, as they come in. These memos are important because they lay out actions that the state requires local school districts to carry out. For example, there's one that says that school nurses are required to inform the parent if a child goes to the nurse's office with an injury sustained in school, or a suspected infectious disease. Once I find such a state ed memo about something that my district should be doing but hasn't done, and refuses to do, I can request that Mr. A follow up and explain to my district what is required. The state ed department does not have the memos collected in one central web location. The ones that I have found, I have found more or less by accident. They are powerful things to have for advocacy and activism.

Mr. A passed me off to a listserv that state ed maintains for keeping parents updated. He said that if I subscribe to it I will get the memos. I subscribed; I requested, and was sent, a copy of the archived messages as well. I discovered that through this subscription, parents don't get any useful information. I am ready to write back to Mr. A. (Please don't suggest I try someone higher up at state ed. I've tried that, and they send me back to Mr. A.)

Sorry if that was too long. If someone can boil it down please be my guest.

Here's the sentence I need to clean up:

They don't give parents jacksh&t.

Here is some documentation of that expression: http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/jack-shit

I need something succinct and expressive but without a four-letter word. Mr. A is someone I don't need to beat around the bush with; but "jacksh*t" is not a word I can use with him.

I know a way of saying this in Mexican Spanish, if this helps anyone:

Nos están dando atole con el dedo.

This means they are feeding us gruel with a finger (rather than a spoon). It's extremely effective in Mexico. That's the kind of expression I'm looking for, but in English.

The best I've come up with so far:

They don't give parents jacks**t.


Normally I wait a lot longer than this before accepting an answer, but I wanted to get the email out, so I went with diddly-squat. I may as well go ahead and click the checkmark now. If someone comes up with something better, I'll use it next time! (Something tells me there will be a next time, sooner or later....)

My finished product:

[...] Also, I signed up for the listserv as you suggested, and asked them to send me the messages I had missed so far. They did. Unfortunately I discovered that the listserv does not give parents diddly-squat. It was a good idea, though, and I'm glad we tried. [...]

  • 4
    You could say something like, "The state does not provide parents with anything beneficial" or "with anything useful".
    – Hank
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 17:30
  • @Hank - I need something with more punch. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 17:59
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    (Jack)shit is a member of the extremely idiomatic class of negative phenomena known as Squatitives. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 20:18
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    @JohnLawler, I always learn something new from your comments. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 20:46
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    @CarlVeazey - I accepted your edit so it would be recorded for posterity. It was a great edit, really slimmed down the question to the essentials. But for now, at least, I'd like to leave the context in the question -- maybe it's silly -- anyway, please do keep editing, it was a great edit. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 23:03

5 Answers 5


This no doubt dates me, but we used to use:

doodly squat, also-doodley squat, also-diddly squat

1. a minimum amount or degree; the least bit (usually used in the negative):

"This coin collection isn't worth doodly-squat in today's market."

to mean the same thing. According to Random House, it goes back to 1934.

Merriam Webster speculates that it is:

perhaps an alteration of do one's do (to defecate) + squat

Dictionary.com says that it is:

probably euphemistic variant of doodly-shit, diddlyshit

It was considered "clean" enough for our 1960s era cheerleaders to use in the chant:

Our team is red-hot,
Your team ain't doodly-squat

And your sentence would then be...

They don't give parents doodly-squat.


That listserv is only good for doodly-squat.

  • 7
    Simply "squat" would also work here and be (slightly) less dated.
    – A C
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 21:23
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    "Doodley-squat" is funnier and has the Kurt Vonnegut seal of approval.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 23:25
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    This is why they're called "Squatitives". Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 14:02

A cleaner version of jacksh*t is jack:

US informal
short for jack shit

There's nothing closer to the original meaning, and it's considerably more polite than the full expression.

And your sentence would then be

They don't give parents jack.

  • 1
    In British English, "They give parents jack all" (or less politely, "squat all").
    – alephzero
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 0:00
  • Didn't accept this answer because it wasn't part of my vocabulary before, plus, the sh*t part is so clearly implied. But I'm glad to add it to my vocabulary! Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 16:18

Beyond curses-that-aren't-curses, also consider words that are strongly negative, like "worthless" and "useless".

The information is practically worthless.

Though it pains me to admit it, this is a time I see the value of using "literally" for emphasis. "They literally don't give parents anything useful." In such situations, "Practically" and "Virtually" are my go-to replacements, so you may try:

Virtually nothing of value
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    This particular administrator is a down-to-earth kind of guy, and I wanted something colorful. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 20:44
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    That would have been an important thing to mention in the question, @aparente001. Normally, when you're writing an email in a professional context, you want to avoid this kind of language, so a phrasing like this one was the first thing that came into my mind, too. Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 5:16
  • @CodyGray - I tried! I wrote, "Mr. A is someone I don't need to beat around the bush with" and "I need something succinct and expressive." Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 5:19
  • Oh, I see. Yeah, I guess that is one way you could interpret that. The way I took it (and probably ancientcampus did too) was that just you wanted something direct and powerful, not necessarily that colorful or borderline-crude was acceptable. One has to be very careful with the latter, especially in written communication, because of the dangers of being misinterpreted or perceived as unprofessional. It really only works when you have a good established relationship with the person on the other end. Lots of people take things too seriously! Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 5:37
  • @CodyGray - You really put your finger on it with your comment. Tell me, is "diddly-squat" borderline crude to your ear? Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 16:19

The Online Slang Dictionary gives several delightful alternatives, including:

boo – bumpkiss – bupkis – dick – diddly-squat – f**k all – fu**le – goose egg – jack – jack sh!t – jack squat – nunya – sh!t – squat – zilch – zip – zippo

Not all of these would fit your purpose. If I had to choose, in a semi-professional situation where I would not want to swear, I might go with

They give parents a big fat goose-egg.

which has some colorful but clean intensifiers, or possibly string some of them together for emphasis:

They give parents nothing--zip, zero, zilch, nada.

  • +1 for the suggestions that remove "don't give <thing>" - it reads more easily without the negation. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 23:44
  • @XiongChiamiov - Sometimes a double negative provides more punch. Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 16:20

If you wanted to go even further, you might consider reversing the statement along the lines of They give the parents nothing of any [use|value|significance].

  • I need something colorful, something with punch. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 21:26
  • They don't give the parents the time of day.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 19:08

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