I'm working on an academic article and need a phrase for a situation where something seems very good, but without the proper tools is useless. for example: Let's say you have Wikipedia with all it's knowledge but no search engine. so it is basically useless.


  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. Could you tell us what words you've tried and why they are not sufficient? – rajah9 Feb 15 '17 at 13:32
  • A fool's errand, that can be called. – Lambie Feb 15 '17 at 15:10
  • 2
    You could say that it comes with a catch – Hank Feb 15 '17 at 15:56
  • are you just looking for the word "impractical"? – am21 Feb 15 '17 at 16:20
  • 1
    It's a mixed bag. – Hot Licks Feb 15 '17 at 19:57

You might consider the expression "a curate's egg": kjʊərətsˈɛɡ/ nounBRITISH a thing that is partly good and partly bad

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate's_egg "this book is a bit of a curate's egg"


A diamond in the rough is anything of value that is not ready for its purpose, but with great potential. Similar to your request, such a diamond seems very good, but without the proper tools is useless.

Diamond in the rough: A person or thing with exceptional qualities or characteristics that cannot be seen from the surface.


An idiomatic expression would be as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Someone or something that is of no practical use is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.


While the definition sounds quite harsh, it can be used in situations whereby something seems like it would be obviously useful in a situation, but due to a glaring error it's not.

As per the example in the phrase itself, the problem is that you need to make some tea. At first glance, a teapot would be useful, as it is the proper vessel for brewing a good tea. However, as it is made of chocolate, it serves no use in actually making tea.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.