I am looking for a contemptuous or belittling word or phrase that would describe something that has been published (not necessarily a book) but is of inferior quality, and a waste of paper. It can be a slang/informal term.

Specifically, I'm NOT looking for a term for a cheap novel (like 'pulp fiction' or 'airport literature') - there's plenty of expressions both here and in wikipedia, but the book I wanted to refer to does not have any plot. It's actually an activity book, if this information happens to be of any use. I just wanted to write something like:

This book turned out to be an unremarkable/uninspiring/etc. <...>.

I haven't managed to find anything satisfactory so far. I could probably just use something generic like 'piece of crap', but I was wondering if there was any more specific, paper-related term.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 23:34

14 Answers 14


Consider "birdcage liner". Typically used in reference to newspapers, but widely understood as printed material fit only for a bird to poop on.

  • Widely understood... for maybe bird owners. I'm not sure that most people have enough background knowledge on birds to know that you line their cages with old, useless paper. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 12:14
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    I like this one and, although I've never owned birds, I would understand the full meaning more quickly than if someone had said rag, pap or drivel. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 19:17

As a well-read AE native speaker, I've never heard of "pap", so I can't recommend it for a general audience. I like "birdcage liner" - quite evocative - but honestly, the most direct expression is the one you said yourself:

This book turned out to be an unimaginative waste of paper.

That will be well understood and is fairly common. Other expressions include not worth the paper it's printed on - quite common, but doesn't slot neatly into your sentence. For a single word, drivel is probably your best bet - it's both harsh and fairly formal in register, so more likely to be seen in writing than garbage or trash, which are probably more common in speech. Drivel also has the advantage of usually being used to describe written works, though it doesn't strictly have to, whereas garbage is obviously much more general.

  • 5
    "Waste of ink" is pretty much the same as "waste of paper". (I've seen "waste of pixels" or "waste of electrons" for an e-document). All often combined with "good", for example "a complete waste of good paper".
    – nigel222
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 14:00
  • 3
    Nice job taking the answer that appears in the question, although I agree that this works fine.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 21:03

While not specifically targeting written communication, drivel

drivel - silly nonsense. "don't talk such drivel!" synonyms: nonsense, twaddle, claptrap, balderdash, gibberish, rubbish, mumbo jumbo, garbage; informalpoppycock, piffle, tripe, bull, hogwash, baloney, codswallop, flapdoodle, jive, guff, bushwa; informal:,tommyrot, bunkum; vulgar: slangcrapola, verbal diarrhea "he was talking complete drivel"


Hotlicks said rag in comments, and I think that's a good one.

It has a meaning literally as "a bad newspaper", so it is derogatory, and wonderful as a close metaphor for other poor quality written works.

This book turned out to be an unremarkable, uninspiring, unedifying rag.

  • Yes. The implication being that even though somebody took the trouble to put words on it, its only worth is for wiping up stains and whatnot. Typically used for supermarket tabloid newspapers, or something one wants to imply is of similar quality.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 13:13

Have a look at pap at Oxford dictionary, defined as

Worthless or trivial reading matter or entertainment.

Also look up its synonyms like pulp and consider other words like kitsch or cloying.

  • 'Pap' was the first thing that came to my mind!
    – Easy Tiger
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 13:20
  • 6
    Is this a specifically-British term? I consider myself a fairly well-read American and I don't recognize it.
    – Joe
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 18:42
  • @Joe I'm from India and I read it in a newspaper once. I don't know if it's British.
    – vickyace
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 19:20
  • 1
    If you search for "pap" with Google, the main results are about pap smears. I wouldn't recommend using the word for books or verbally unless you are prepared to receive looks of confusion.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 19:21
  • "pap" is commonplace, sure it's the right answer. What a load of pap!
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 19:28

bumf, found from the late-19th century and still in current use, a contraction of bum-fodder which is to say toilet-paper with the implication that this is the only useful purpose the literature in question serves.

While it was once also used literally to mean actual toilet-paper, I've only ever come across it used in the insulting sense any later than half-way through the last century, so it's pretty much exactly what you are asking for.

  • 3
    “I am in the smallest room of the house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.” -- Max Reger Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 18:47

I might use banal which means:

devoid of freshness or originality; hackneyed; trite

Corny might also work, although I tend to think of this when someone / something is trying to be funny:

old-fashioned, trite, or lacking in subtlety


If you wanted a noun, you could say, "This book is an uninspired banality."

  • 3
    These are adjectives that can be used to describe a bad book, but they are not in themselves a derogatory term for a book. "This book turned out to be an uninspiring banal". Doesn't really work does it? Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 9:47
  • 1
    Your comment is pure corn.
    – Stewart
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 10:03
  • 2
    Heh heh I'll pay that. No-one ever accused me of subtlety, in the very least, and I am old ;) Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 10:57

While it's not quite what the body of your question is asking for, dead trees fits the subject line and might work for you. It more fits the sense of deriding print media itself, rather than the specific printed content, as a backwards and wasteful technology, but it could potentially work when you consider the particular use wasteful.

  • 2
    "A waste of dead trees" would fit in the OP's sample sentence.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 13:20
  • Yes, I like @MrLister's tweak to my answer. Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 16:02

The first term that came to mind for me was pabulum (which I think is where pap came from but I can't find a citation). The third meaning seems to fit what you're looking for. It's interesting that pabulum can now mean both intellectually stimulating and insipid.

Definition of pabulum

1 : food; especially : a suspension or solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption Roots deliver pabulum to the plant.

2 : intellectual sustenance pabulum for consideration and reflection

3 : something (as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or bland wrote pabulum that was intended to offend no one


screed A long speech or piece of writing, typically one regarded as tedious. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/screed

that it is been published is implicit in that definition; it must be sufficiently published in order to be regarded.

However the word often has overtones of vitriol or anger.


Dross: "something that has no use or no value" (CD)

And from Wikipedia: "The most popular usage of the word is now as an adjective for poorly written or even plagiarized journalism."

So I think you can safely use it to describe the book you are talking about:

This book turned out to be total dross.

or as a phrase:

This book turned out to be an unremarkable and uninspiring piece of dross.

It most assuredly is not a compliment!


So, you say you are looking for something closer to "pile of papers with random stuff written on them" than "book" (or the boring tome), and for this I think you are looking for a cute sounding collective noun, bringing to mind terms like sheaf (a small bunch of pages), stack (a neat pile of pages), heap (a sloppy pile), bundle (a pile held together by string or something), recycling (as a noun, British style: "added it to the recycling"). Even farther afield, you might consider bale (as of hay), or (getting back to the collective noun department) flutter of pages, aggregation of dense, slow-to-read, meaningless facts, or just compilation (of less dense, but still maybe meaningless, facts). You say it's an activity book, which to me seems like a not-very-long work, but you make a point of calling it a book, so maybe I'm wrong on this, which would mean you could pull out the good-as-gold, classic, doorstop.


There is the British word bumf. Rhymes with Trumph

printed information, such as an advertisement or official document, that is usually unwanted and not interesting:

-Cambridge on-line

  • 1
    Hi Paulustrious, welcome to ELU! Can you add a definition to your answer, with a source? Otherwise, as this is apparently not a commonly-known word, we have no way of knowing if it's just something you made up.
    – Hellion
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:13
  • 1
    @Hellion You could read about bumf in the other answer that already describes it ;) Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 21:52
  • As a british speaker - I would consider Bumf to be more like paper "stuff" - it's not derogitory - but it implies a lot of it. For example, if you were requesting information on something (a purchase, a beurocratic operation etc) - and they sent you a stack of paper, you might say "They sent us a load of bumf to read though"
    – Andrew M
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 9:03
  • @Hellion. Sorry. I will cite things in future. It is in dictionary.com, though under slang. I missed the previous answer. I disagree with Andrew. Calling something toilet paper is derogatory. As in "I wouldn't bother sorting through that lot. It's all bumf". Jon Hannah set me right on the origin. I always though it was short for bum fluff. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 13:17


a manuscript on which two or more successive texts have been written, each one being erased to make room for the next

I've seen it used figuratively to refer to something so worthless its only use is to make room for other writing.

  • 2
    I have never seen "palimpsest" used that way.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 12:24

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