For example, when you get those weird chewy caramel things on Halloween; given out of kindness but really no good. I'm thinking of something that is a "false gift", almost like the inverse of a blessing in disguise (which this thread discusses, but none of those are what I'm thinking of).

The intentionality of the giver is not so important as the properties of the thing itself: it is supposed to be good, but really isn't.

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    English speakers have long used "Trojan horse" in the sense of a seemingly desirable gift that is actually bad for the recipient. The phrase would not, however, normally be applied to weird chewy caramel things given at Halloween.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 19:59
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    See ELU Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:06
  • The link that MikeJRamsey56 posted has a few good suggestions.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:12
  • Thanks, MikeJRamsey56. That has a few suggestions that come close to what I'm thinking, especially "gilded turd", "fool's gold", and "hollow bunny". Perhaps the gift-related aspect of this idea is too specific to be associated with an idiom.
    – GCree
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:18
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    Thanks to this answer to a tangentially-related question I now have the term "cat gift" or "cat offering" in my lexicon (as in the "gift" of a dead mouse that my cat left at the foot of my bed a few days ago). I wouldn't say it's common enough to be an idiom, though.
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:24

7 Answers 7


A quick answer that comes to mind is "White Elephant".

See Wikipedia White Elephant

A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. In modern usage, it is an object, building project, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered expensive but without use or value.1

There is also a party game in which people set out to intentionally give each other white elephant gifts.

One might also consider

Poisoned Chalice

as suggested here, or from that same page:

A curse in disguise

It's not standard or a set phrase, but it should be easily understood.

  • Not many people would use 'white elephant' to describe 'those weird chewy caramel things [given out] [at] Halloween'. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 19:46
  • I think poisoned chalice sounds closest to the concept I'm thinking of, but it's a bit dramatic for common use (though that might give it comedic value when used in mundane situations).
    – GCree
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:22
  • I don't think this fits. The gift doesn't actively cause any harm. It's just low quality.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 3:08
  • Yeah, GCree, for Halloween candy specifically, I'd avoid the "Poisoned..." phrase lest someone, even for a second, think you mean someone literally poisoned the candy.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 15:52

As an old trick-or-treater who got more than her fair share of those yucky chewy caramel thingies, I can suggest "dud" to describe them and other like-detested treats.

The first definition for "dud" fits this usage - per the Google dictionary:

noun: dud; plural noun: duds

  1. a thing that fails to work properly or is otherwise unsatisfactory or worthless. Ex.: "a high-grade collection, not a dud in the lot"

synonyms: failure, flop, letdown, disappointment, loss-maker; More informal washout, lemon, no-hoper, nonstarter, dead loss, clunker "their new product is a dud"

For a little historical background (from the 1960's Midwest US), Halloween candy could be broken down by "quality":

Best - "full-size" candy bars!

Next Best - "fun-size" candy bars

OK - Other candy - includes Dum-Dum suckers, Smarties, Milk Duds (do not confuse with plain, old duds!) and finally...

Duds - Aforementioned chewy caramel thingies, apples, pennies, weird, wrapped lozenges with foreign words on them, anything else that is not candy.

Edit: In usage, "Hey! The Robinsons are giving out full-size Hershey bars! Don't bother with the Fluges' - they're giving out duds!"

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    I upvoted this, even though I posted my own answer, because I believe this could work for other situations where the gift is a Dud. Even though it was a really nice vacuum cleaner, as an anniversary present, it was a dud!
    – TecBrat
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:25
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    I reciprocated @TecBrat because I think the concept of the White Elephant is so fitting for many other items - like the tapestry old-lady purse my mom gave me as a Christmas present when I was around 12. You KNOW that sat in my dresser drawer for the rest of its natural life! :-D Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 20:32
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    Where do Milk Duds fall in to your ranking, then? Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 21:51
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    @jpmc26, technically something like a Payday bar is not a chocolate bar but I get your point and will edit the answer for consistency’s sake. :-) Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 3:43
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    @KristinaLopez Ah, I see. I got hung up on the "chocolate" and skimmed over the "fun" as "full". (I think I need new glasses, too.) That said, I have some fun-size Paydays with me right this second. ;D
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 3:48

A Poisoned Chalice.

A scheme or instrument for causing death or harm, especially one which eventually brings about the downfall of its creator; something which is initially regarded as advantageous but which is later recognized to be disadvantageous or harmful.


Beware of Greeks bearing gifts


The term "well meaning" might be suitably applicable, as in, "a well meaning gift." I know you said that the intentions of the giver were not so important, but despite that, the term carries the implication that the gift itself was of poor quality.


gift that keeps on giving (wiki)

Something with continuing consequences.


When 'good deeds' do no good, they (idiomatically) 'kill with kindness'.

Kill with kindness : Overwhelm or harm someone with mistaken or excessive benevolence.

For example, Aunt Mary constantly sends Jane chocolates and cake and other goodies, even though she's been told Jane's on a diet-nothing like killing with kindness . This expression originated as kill with kindness as fond apes do their young (presumably crushing them to death in a hug) and was a proverb by the mid-1500s.

Free Dictionary Idioms

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