I am writing a story, and I need a single word or phrase as a topic for

A person who has failed to achieve success despite his high educational attainment.

Here is an example:

A person has Masters and Ph.D. degrees, but is a poor shopkeeper. He cannot even arrange the basic facilities of life for himself and his family.

The word could be a noun or an adjective.

  • 2
    You can call them any number of things. If you don't know what to call them given all the additional details and context that you have, we certainly don't know what to call them when said details and context are withheld from us.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 26, 2017 at 10:42
  • 3
    As an aside, it's quite an attitude to regard being a shopkeeper as "failing at life". Especially if someone has actual "certain reasons" to be a shopkeeper. In my ideal world, everyone has a PhD. In your ideal world, there aren't even shopkeepers. Sucks.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 26, 2017 at 10:47
  • 1
    @RegDwigнt To be fair, the text says 'a poor shopkeeper', which I took to mean someone who had failed to make a go of shopkeeping, but it is ambiguous. Perhaps the OP could sharpen up the question?
    – Spagirl
    May 26, 2017 at 11:00
  • 1
    @RegDwigHt I make the educated guess that 'poor shopkeeper' is used within a background of Indian English to mean impoverished small trader, which is apparently a failure (according to OP) for somebody with the highest qualifications. However native speakers of English reading 'poor shopkeeper' might think (as I first did, though I am Indian) that the hypothetical person failed at some business venture. OP wants a single word for a person who is a material or financial failure despite the highest educational qualifications. I am only trying to explain the context of 'poor shopkeeper' here. May 26, 2017 at 11:47
  • 1
    @user237875 Ok, fair enough. I've edited your post to reflect all this additional information you've kindly provided in the comments. Use the updated question as a guide for your next question. The more detail you provide up front, in the actual question and not comments, and the more clearly you present it (including standard orthography, spacing, spelling, punctuation, formatting and so on), the faster and better answers you'll get.
    – Dan Bron
    May 26, 2017 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


This person is an

overeducated underachiever

overeducated: Having been educated to a higher academic level than is necessary. (Oxford Living Dictionaries)

underachiever: someone who is less successful than they should be at school or at work (Cambridge)

Or you could say this person

is highly educated, but short on common sense.

Or that he

has his head in the clouds

or he

is too smart for his own good.

Loser, failure, flop, useless could be used in place of underachiever, but they're more hurtful words.

(There might also be a good word in Yiddish for this.)

  • Just the word that occured to me; Upvote! Looking at OP's descriprion and your definition (and this is why I hesitated to suggest that word before) this person is an overachiever at studies and an underachiever at work! Now OP can ask: I am writing a story: what is a single word or phrase for somebody who is an overachiever at one thing and an underachiever at another? May 27, 2017 at 6:22
  • Note 2: I would agree with Reg DwigHt and disagree with OP that just because this fictional person has not achieved the material or financial success commensurate with his high educational qualifications, he cannot be called a 'failure in life' unless he feels so himself. I know many persons who are highly successful educationally, materially and financially yet consider themselves a failure in life! May 27, 2017 at 6:30

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