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From the point of view of the werewolf, the silver bullet is far from having a positive connotation. What similarly idiomatic word or expression could be used to express something that brings about one's destruction in a very precise and effective –sort of perfect-storm– kind of way?

The context is a promising technology or product that failed due to unrelated and unexpected conditions and/or developments in the market (here there is no fault on the part of the market-player; it's just mere chance). I can imagine this extending perhaps to literary evil characters which had contrived a very clever way to become strong or invincible, but the archetypal weaker character exploits a weakness that the villain did not consider (here there is perhaps some fault/blame to be assigned).

Thanks in advance.

closed as off-topic by jimm101, Mitch, MetaEd Dec 20 '16 at 15:04

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. For help writing a good word or phrase request, see: About single word requests" – jimm101, Mitch, MetaEd
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Hmm. For me, "silver bullet" is mostly used as in "no silver bullet" to mean that there is no tech available that solves a certain problem (instantaneously) without any downsides. I confess I don't even quite see how this concept could be antonym-ized? – Martin Dec 13 '16 at 21:55
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    This sounds like a structural change in the markets. For example a company succeeds in perfecting the gasoline engine just as personal cold fusion is announced. The engine had no fatal flaw or Achilles heel it simply was made obsolete by a structural change in the market. – Jim Dec 13 '16 at 22:18
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    In technology, if you fail, there might be a Silver Lining to that failure. I fail to see how that might be connected to a silver bullet. The opposite of a silver bullet, as a deadly force (werewolves) would be a life force: May the Force Be With You. :) – Lambie Dec 13 '16 at 22:27
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    "The emergence of XYZ technology dealt a death blow to the product". – Graffito Dec 13 '16 at 22:52
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    For precise and effective destruction, I would suggest "dIsmantle" and "surgical strike", but I can't make the words work in the requested context. – user66219 Dec 14 '16 at 8:47

15 Answers 15

44

The fictional mineral "kryptonite" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

(in science fiction) an alien mineral with the property of depriving Superman of his powers

This word is often used in popular culture to refer to a singular weakness exhibited by an otherwise competent, or even hyper-competent, individual.

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    Better than the other answers because it describes the object that is one's undoing, as opposed to some quality of the one in question. – monoRed Dec 13 '16 at 21:43
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    It's also a real mineral, too sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160302115426.htm – TylerH Dec 13 '16 at 21:56
  • Superman is to kryptonite as silver is to werewolves? That's true but it's not the opposite of a silver bullet. It's analogous, right? – Lambie Dec 13 '16 at 22:23
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    @Lambie While it's true that kryptonite is to Superman as silver is to werewolves the objects in question are only really useful in the context of what they are eliminating. Werewolves are bad, silver bullets makes them go away. Superman is good, kryptonite makes him go away. Kryptonite is the closest to an antonym of silver bullet as we're going to get in this context. In other words a silver bullet is a tool that removes something negative whereas kryptonite is tool that removes something positive. – Tuffwer Dec 13 '16 at 22:45
  • @Tuffwer My question was rhetorical. I think the OP was confusing silver bullet and silver lining. The OP mentioned a failed project. His first and second paragraphs are not necessarily related. – Lambie Dec 14 '16 at 13:41
29

Consider an "Achilles heel."

noun

1. a portion, spot, area, or the like, that is especially or solely vulnerable:

His Achilles heel is his quick temper.

  • Hm. This doesn't quite work for the first example, does it? The emergence of XYZ technology proved to be the achilles heel of the product sounds to me like it had a weakness, but in this case it's just due to market forces. Had it not been for the new product, the former may have likely been successful. – user19407 Dec 13 '16 at 20:28
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    Achilles heel implies a specific vulnerability or problem, in the same way that a silver bullet implies a specific method of exploiting a vulnerability or solving a problem. If you are thinking of something as the result of a conglomeration of unrelated forces, then the phrase "perfect storm" from the question is well-suited. That said, I find your example in the comment to be a valid use of "achilles heel" and it would almost certainly be understood by the average listener. – brandondoge Dec 13 '16 at 20:30
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    @Casey english.stackexchange.com/questions/85515/… – k1eran Dec 14 '16 at 14:24
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    @k1eran So... in other words, I'm correct. Because Achilles is a personal name. – Casey Dec 14 '16 at 14:51
  • @Casey seems this is a can of worms. Looks to me like it should be capitalised and with an apostrophe. However others disagree e.g. theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a Interesting comments at grammarist.com/usage/achilles-heel though probably getting off-topic as there are other questions dealing with these detailed points on english.stackexchange.com already. – k1eran Dec 14 '16 at 17:29
13

The literary term is a tragic flaw.

Tragic flaw is a literary device that can be defined as a trait in a character leading to his downfall and the character is often the hero of the literary piece. This trait could be the lack of self-knowledge, lack of judgment and often it is hubris (pride).

The Greek word for Tragic flaw is hamaratia or hamartanein that means “to err”. It was Aristotle who introduced this term first in his book the Poetics and his idea was that it is an “error of judgment” on the part of a hero that brings his downfall. A tragic flaw is also called a fatal flaw in literature and films. This is taken as a defective trait in the character of the hero.

While the silver bullet is often thought of as the perfect weapon to wield against a strong person, the tragic flaw is something within that person.

-- Edit "fatal flaw" ---

As HotLicks and C.M Weimer pointed out in comments, fatal flaw is in wider use. A quick-and-dirty Google Ngram shows fatal flaw with around three times the frequency of tragic flaw (although they came remarkably close in 1950).

  • I think "fatal flaw" is a more common idiom. – Hot Licks Dec 13 '16 at 21:45
  • @HotLicks Indeed. Tragic flaw is a technical term, fatal flaw is what people actually say. – user210771 Dec 14 '16 at 14:17
  • I searched on fatal flaw first, but found the technical term more compelling. I'll edit to add the HotLicks comment. – rajah9 Dec 14 '16 at 15:09
  • <pedantry>It's actually hamartia, not hamaratia </pedantry> – brianpck Dec 14 '16 at 20:25
  • Agreed, @brianpck, the entry at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamartia says its from "Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν". The website I copied seems to have added an extra syllable. – rajah9 Dec 15 '16 at 15:02
8

Our promising technology was a victim of circumstances.

... or ...

Our promising technology failed due to circumstances beyond our control.

Definition of circumstance.
1a : a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another : an essential or inevitable concomitant.
<the weather is a circumstance to be taken into consideration> — M-W

Also see http://m.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-victim-of-circumstance.htm

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    "victim of circumstances" is a good suggestion +1, but "circumstances beyond our control" is less idiomatic and perhaps too generic. – Joffan Dec 15 '16 at 11:22
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    I've also heard (and used) the phrase "overcome by circumstances". – Dave Tweed Dec 15 '16 at 16:34
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Achilles heel is good when it refers to a very specific vulnerability, an innate, fatal flaw in the subject. For instance, the silver bullet is the werewolf's Achilles heel.

When referring to something that is not exactly its only vulnerability, but unfolds as an affliction, bane might be the word you are looking for.

bane ‎(plural banes)

A cause of misery or death; an affliction or curse

the bane of my existence

In the context of software, a desire to cater to too wide an audience might be the bane of an otherwise perfectly usable application. Having too many different buttons and features can overwhelm users who only need basic point-and-shoot functionality.

5

Addressing your context, it sounds like the product went down like a lead balloon which contrasts nicely with silver (or magic) bullet. But I doubt you're likely to find an idiom that answers both the no fault (market) need and the other combative or malicious case.

3

For your specific scenario of a product failing due to a bad market, a good option would be perfect storm

A "perfect storm" is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically

Wikipedia

So, as per your example:

The product was excellent by it's own merits, but suffered under a perfect storm of market forces.

  • Agreed. Despite being in the question, it makes a pretty good answer to the problem. – hobbs Dec 15 '16 at 8:36
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nemesis /ˈneməsəs/ noun

the inescapable agent of someone's or something's downfall. –Google

1

You could describe something with the adjective laser-guided or laser-precise. As in: laser-guided munitions, laser-guided attack, etc.

  • Goes well with death blow. – aparente001 Dec 14 '16 at 5:16
0

If you're willing to look into Sci-fi literature, I think the shatterpoint is the most apt.

In the Star Wars EU, a Force user could focus on an object, a person, or an event. They would see that thing's origin, how it formed, its entire history. Then, the Force user could use this intimate knowledge to effortlessly change or destroy the thing in question. This has been used to destroy blast doors, pure Mandalorian iron (like adamantium in the Marvel universe), etc. The word itself is pretty evocative of an object's fundamental crux, and might be the sort of thing a society without Star Wars might come up with. It's a ninety pound monk with no muscles destroying a tree with one punch because he hits it just right.

Also, "fundamental crux" is also pretty apt. The core challenge, which, once overcome, changes a nigh-insurmountable problem into a straightforward one.

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    Nobody outside of die-hard Star Wars fans would know what "shatterpoint" means. It's not a generally accepted English word, while "silver bullet" is a generally-known phrase that appears in regular dictionaries. – Katherine Lockwood Dec 13 '16 at 23:41
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In software development the opposite of "silver bullet" are terms like "rat hole"

(A) Bob's framework is a silver bullet for responsive UI.

(B) Bob's framework is a rat hole for responsive UI.

(A) makes a hard problem easy, (B) makes a hard problem impossible.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but rathole seems to refer rather to resources 1) used to refer to the waste of money or resources. "pouring our assets down the rathole of military expenditure" (Google) 2) v (transitive) to take a conversation off topic, especially in technical meetings. (wiktionary) – user19407 Dec 14 '16 at 8:25
  • You are agreeing to disagree. If you negate your own definition of rat hole, you arrive at the understood meaning of silver bullet (in software development). Generally, an on-point, focused solution that saves time and money. – Dominic Cerisano Dec 16 '16 at 22:40
0

It was the beginning of the end for HD-DVD once Blu-Ray acquired exclusive rights to XYZ studio's movies.

0

Some good answers here; the only thing I'd add is that this description:

a promising technology or product that failed due to unrelated and unexpected conditions and/or developments in the market (here there is no fault on the part of the market-player; it's just mere chance)

suggests to me a phrase like caught in the crossfire or perhaps overtaken by events.

0

I suggest "hoist by your own petard"; an idiom from Shakespeare that means "to be harmed by one's own plan to harm someone else"

For example, the Green Goblin tried to use his glider to impale Spiderman; but winds up impaling himself instead. I.e. GG was hoisted by his own petard.

0

It seems you get to color your own idiom with this one.

  • "Garbage heap of history" - official TASS translation of a Yuri
    Andropov speech.

  • "Ash heap of history" - from a speech by Ronald Reagan.

  • "Dustbin of history" - popularized the phrase, so it would seem, from a speech by Leon Trotski in 1917.

  • "Dust heap of history" - Apparently the original, from British writer Augustine Birrell, 1877.

All of the above came from New York Times Magazine, "On Language; Dust Heaps of History", by William Safire, 1983: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/10/16/magazine/on-language-dust-heaps-of-history.html

These phrases are often presented as *consigned to the X heap of history."

To use a popular urban legend as an example, I would say that the General Motors streetcar conspiracy sought to consign urban rail transit to the dustbin of history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

In formal writing, it often appears as "the proverbial dustbin of history" when used outside the context of politics.

In light of the productive nature of this idea, I think you could get away with consigning an app or progy to the bit bucket of history. Googling the phase nets several hundred hits, some reasonably formal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bit_bucket

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