My purpose, if it matters, is to help in creating a "short title" as a metaphor for a policy proposal at work.

For reasons of cost or convenience, some people ignore small parts that are broken. For example, if a knob breaks on the heating controls of a car, many people may tend to "live with" the problem rather than fix it if the control is either unimportant or can still be accessed in some other way (perhaps with pliers). Or, perhaps a switch plate on a light switch is cracked or broken, but people using that light switch do not see the necessity in replacing the switch plate. I can give more examples if needed, and I have a "draft" name for the proposal in case there is no word, phrase, or idiom to describe this phenomenon:

Note: Spoiler hidden below to avoid anchoring. You may wish to try answering the question first.

"No broken knobs" policy

I have tried Google to no avail, using various combinations of the above spoiler words, along with:

  • word for something that is broken in a minor way that will be ignored
  • phrase for minor breakage

and a number of other queries that I have now forgotten.

Are there any particular words, phrases, or idioms that describe this phenomenon?

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    I am confused about what the actual question here is. Are you asking for a word for the tolerance that people have for minor damage on something they just purchase? OR for your company's policy on that? If the latter, what is the policy: disallow returns, give store credit, full refund, replacement? – JeffSahol Nov 17 '11 at 20:35
  • @JeffSahol Neither. I am asking about a phenomenon in general in which something breaks in a minor way that is a nuisance but is not deemed worth expending any resources to repair or replace. This "something" need not be a physical object; for instance, a piece of software requiring a workaround to perform some task could qualify, depending on the circumstances. My company has little to do with it. I am trying to name a policy (that happens to be about software) in such a way that non-technical people can relate to it. – Andrew Nov 17 '11 at 20:40
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    That last sentence is key. That's what we needed to know. Suggest you put that prominently in your question. – MetaEd Nov 17 '11 at 21:18
  • Thanks for your answers, everyone. I wish I could accept multiple answers. I still have not completely decided on a name, but I am especially informed by the answers on "wear and tear," "zero defects policy," and "broken window theory." – Andrew Nov 23 '11 at 18:53

13 Answers 13


It seems to me there's already an expression in common use. I just typed zero defec with "Google Instant" turned on. Google suggests I might be looking for...

Zero Defects Policy

  • Good, but not quite the allusion I'm seeking. This is more basic; don't have a link to a report that "everyone knows" does not function, for example. I think we may also want to consider a zero defects policy, though. +1. – Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 18:02
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    @Andrew: Supply chain purchasers have wholehearedly adopted the concept, and for them it thus has a more restricted sense. But that doesn't mean your non-functional button falls outside the concept - it's a fault just waiting to cause more problems, even if "everybody knows" not to use it. You next junior programmer might not know, and could waste time or cause other runtime failures simply because he tried to take account of the associated unreliable code - which ought to have been either fixed or deleted before you even hired him. – FumbleFingers Nov 18 '11 at 18:37
  • Agreed... and that is one reason I'm trying to solve this problem, because that exact thing happened. There are other reasons related to user experience, also, though. – Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 18:40
  • You should raise this one on programmers.se, where I think you'll probably find most people are even stricter than me in this regard. Most of them would probably suggest firing the entire current team before re-hiring someone to fix the code! – FumbleFingers Nov 18 '11 at 18:49
  • I avoid raising any issues whatsoever on Programmers.SE, as I don't wish to guess whether my question will be closed... Anyway, while I'm trying to get to exactly the policy you are describing, I view my current policy attempt as an intermediate step toward that goal. – Andrew Nov 23 '11 at 18:42

It's moderately unclear what you're asking, but I'll suggest wear and tear for something similar. Wear and tear generally suggests the breaking or lessening in effectiveness of objects as a result of normal aging and use. While the phrase does not necessarily imply that the damage won't be fixed, it is certainly understood to not be a priority. It is also understood to be minor enough such that nobody is to blame for the damage; rather, it is expected. This is the basis of the legal precedents described in the article.

  • This is an interesting concept to try, especially given that wear and tear seems almost orthogonal to software. I'll have to give this one some thought. – Andrew Nov 17 '11 at 22:36

Perhaps you can allude to the broken windows theory?

  • I'm glad I clicked the link and did not just confuse the term with "broken window fallacy," because the purpose of "broken windows theory" compared to what I am seeking is somewhat parallel. I want our internal business users to feel like they are using a quality product, not just one that does everything but seems shabby. – Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 18:00

I'd recommend minor damages.


Glitch ("minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag"), while primarily referring to technical problems (and sometimes with the idea of being transient), might work.

I like snag, too, but it probably sounds too much like a serious problem to apply here.

  • I think of glitch as conveying some degree of flakiness -- sometimes there's a glitch that forces you to power-cycle an appliance or that sort of thing. I'm not sure a broken light-plate is a glitch. – Monica Cellio Nov 17 '11 at 21:14

As a title for your policy, I like your existing suggestion, but will also put forth:

AAA: Always Address Annoyances.

Now I'm kind of anchored on "annoyances" as the root of the phenomenon, so I'm thinking of expressions like "Annoyance Action Threshold" for how bothersome something has to be before you to go fix it.


PassableFault ? This is a term that does not exist as yet, and needs to be coined.

Something that passes for all practical purposes, but is a fault all the same. A fault may preexist or may have developed in use.

In software, the defect passes quality control tests but fails to (completely) satisfy the user. Incidentally, there can be no wear-and-tear in software and no defect can, theoretically, emerge during the lifetime of the software.

  • Of course, defects can be latent, or they can arise due to changes in the software's running environment rather than due to the software itself. – Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 17:11

How about "Tolerably Damaged Item"?


Minor annoyances in general, whether from actual damage or from poor interface design (you have to remember to press while turning, say), are nuisances.


Depends how formal your environment is. Many may cringe, but "live-with-able imperfections" says it all to me.


If you're looking for a phrase that means word for something that is broken in a minor way that will be ignored, I'd suggest something along the lines of minor damage tolerance, or shorten it damage tolerance, then your policy could called Company ABC's Minor Damage Tolerance Policy. I agree it's long, but I don't think I've ever heard a single word to capture this idea.

If you want the title to suggest that there should be NO minor damage, maybe go in a different direction and call it Company ABC's State of Good Repair Policy. The title implies that this policy is about keeping things in a state of "good repair", implicitly (at least to me) by not tolerating minor damage to things.

  • "Minor Damage Tolerance Policy" is exactly backwards; the author instead wants something like "Minor Damage Intolerance Policy" but less verbose, more punchy, more specific. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Nov 18 '11 at 5:22

The phrase cosmetic damage seems to carry this meaning in the insurance industry.

  • IMO this nails it. Clearly conveys the idea of damage that is noticeable but has no effect on the usability of the item. Not sure what the OP thinks of it. – user36001 Jan 12 '17 at 14:27

When retailers offer discounts on items such as you're describing, they sometimes call it a "Scratch & Dent Sale."

http://www.k2-coolers.com/index.php/clearance/scratch-and-dent.html https://www.openboxdirect.com/scratch-dent-appliances/

I'm not sure whether that's of any use or not for your purposes.

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