What do you call a project which is tossed up as a very plump & has potential but is just creating busywork for some people's existence. The potential project will eventually end up losing its fizz. Serious people will work on it because of inept management's push not recognizing for what it is or merely turning blind eye and eventually it will never actually realize (as in some sort of whitewash).

Just as we say empty talks as talks which has not actual value, what would you call a project which is inherently empty (not going to materialize or does not have real value) and is just a cover up to keep some official's position intact or their attempt to take temporary credit for doing some serious work while it is in its conception.

Example: "New construction and rendering services of 3 Restaurant boats" at Crescent Marina was merely a ________ project or "New construction and rendering services of 3 Restaurant boats" at Crescent Marina was merely is a ___________

work that is created to show one's relevance (or justify one's salary).

  • 1
    Reminiscent of a facade or a potemkin village,,,
    – Wordster
    Oct 16, 2018 at 19:08
  • 1
    @Wordster you should put that as a answer
    – AMN
    Oct 17, 2018 at 7:42

5 Answers 5


Well, the OP asked me to list these, so I will, even though I'm not sure they satisfy the requirements. IOW, they're "in the right semantic family," but maybe not hammer/nail/head.


An outward appearance that is maintained to conceal a less pleasant or creditable reality; superficial appearance of something; pretense, simulation, charade. New construction and rendering services of 3 Restaurant boats at Crescent Marina was merely a façade project.

Potemkin Village

In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is; something that seems impressive but in fact lacks substance. The construction job at Crescent Marina was merely a Potemkin Village project.

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    I think it is not exactly matching the requirement, but it is the better than the others answer with the pork barrel project being the interesting find but not as an answer. I think the answer about "shell" project would work but it does not appear as effective in the case of project. It is better off for the corportation and at times muddled with Royal shell to even management people who aren't aware
    – AMN
    Oct 19, 2018 at 7:55

You could try using shell, in the following sense:

4c : a casing without substance
// mere effigies and shells of men
— Thomas Carlyle

This metaphor is commonly applied to shell corporations:

11 : a company or corporation that exists without assets or independent operations as a legal entity through which another company or corporation can conduct various dealings

In your example:

The construction job at Crescent Marina was merely a shell [project].


This isn't a single word, but you may be looking at something like a "pork barrel project".


Pork barrel is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative's district. The usage originated in American English.[1] In election campaigns, the term is used in derogatory fashion to attack opponents.

This can often refer to or imply that monetary kickbacks happened.

Sometimes these projects actually do some good (like when a playground is built), but other times it's just to keep a politicians' friend's (construction) business busy and operating. (I'm not choosing sides, I'm just explaining how I understand it.)

You might also be looking for "make-work". This is a project that makes a department, (school grade) class, or other section of people look busy, while in fact they aren't really doing anything of any real importance.

The military sometimes does this as punishment for lower level enlisted. "Dig a foxhole here. ... Done? Then fill it in. ... Private, are you still going to fall asleep on sentry duty?"

Sometimes this is done by an individual to either avoid real work or to pretend that they are doing something useful during downtime at their job. "I think I'll write an app to keep track of the office supply inventory, even though it only occupies the drawer next to me."

  • Pork barrel was my first thought, too, but then I figured, the OP isn't necessarily referring to something political. Can pork barrel be used figuratively?
    – Wordster
    Oct 18, 2018 at 20:18
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    @Wordster, the fact that it doesn't actually refer to pork barrels anymore means it's being used figuratively. ;-) I don't know if anyone really uses it outside of politics, though, but there's no reason it couldn't be, AFAIK. Oct 18, 2018 at 20:24
  • Yah, it's not always clear to me how far one can stretch meanings of certain words. I think pork barrel is smack dab on the mark, but "make work" is really good, too.
    – Wordster
    Oct 18, 2018 at 20:28

Busywork is a word we used in school to describe work that had limited or no educational value, but we had to do it. I think this would apply here.


make-work TFD


Work of little value assigned or taken on only to keep someone from being idle.

As in:

Many of the suggested jobs seem best described as make-work. Washington Post May 5, 2018


This would, of course, create even more government jobs, at a special agency for making make-work. Washington Post Apr 23, 2018

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