There are two things I’m thinking about. First, implementing ideas into policy on a large scale. An example could be the idea of communism, a big argument is that communism seems ideal on paper but not in practice.

Second, implementing ideas into a routine or protocol. An example of the former could be a conflict between time management and reality such as trying to designate a certain amount of time to complete a set of tasks. Sometimes things take longer than expected and all the planners and schedules in the world can’t fix that. An example of the latter would be employees being told to always wash their hands when they get dirty but if it is busy, sometimes it’s just not possible to do that every time.

I know these are a lot of different things and I don’t expect a word that encompasses all of them. Anything even remotely related would be appreciated.

  • I assume you are looking for a more formal or sophisticated expression, but the first thing that came into my mind was the word fantasy which somewhat relates to your request. For example, the idea for an unconditional basic income has often been referred to as fantasy (sounding really nice and perfect on paper, but in practice - vide Finland as a country to did a study on it -- it turns out to be largely unfeasible,... at least the way it has been implemented so far). Sep 27 '20 at 22:00
  • I've always liked Schlimmbesserung for this kind of situation, but that depends on making the issue worse through its implementation...
    – Cascabel
    Sep 27 '20 at 22:05
  • @Diazenylium I thought about fantasy too but you bring up a good point. I guess I’m looking more for a word or phrase that means good in theory but not necessarily in practice or put differently, an idea that is realistic but not always attainable. Dream or fantasy work but they have a connotation that implies something that’s unrealistic and I don’t like that
    – Ibby
    Sep 27 '20 at 22:17
  • @Cascabel Not exactly what I had in mind but that is definitely an addition to my word bank. Thanks
    – Ibby
    Sep 27 '20 at 22:17
  • “Unintended consequences” (of purposive social action) is the standard academic expression.
    – Xanne
    Sep 28 '20 at 0:14

11 Answers 11


A contribution to the spectrum of meaning that you refer to is Pipe dream.

Pipe dream (noun): an idea or plan that is impossible or very unlikely to happen.

Example: Her plans are not realistic - they'll never be more than a pipe dream.

[Cambridge English Dictionary]

That brings to mind pie in the sky, castles in the sky, fool’s paradise, or even a chimera.

Chimera: a hope or dream that is very unlikely ever to come true.

Example: Why do people chase the chimera of fame?

[Cambridge English Dictionary]

  • Thanks, these are all great but I realize I didn’t explain myself well. If you look at my comment to Diazenylium you’ll understand
    – Ibby
    Sep 27 '20 at 23:06
  • 1
    @Anton: Don't worry about the edits. And 'pipe dream' is a good one! :) Sep 28 '20 at 2:29
  • "Chimerical" is also a very good choice, albeit a bit arcane, and not related to the context of process, and implementations Aug 30 '21 at 21:37

Quixotic is the perfect word you're looking for

exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical. Often used in the context of 'visionary' matters that are unrealistic or unattainable-by-nature.

  • 1
    This would benefit from an authoritative dictionary reference for the suggested word. Aug 30 '21 at 21:06
  • 1
    If the definition is a quote, please mark it as a quote with > and cite it correctly. Thank you.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 4 '21 at 7:26

I find myself hesitating to suggest this word because the most applicable definition appears in Wiktionary which is not the most authoritative of online resources. However the word is, if you accept their second definition, perfect.

The word is impracticality which is defined in most dictionaries as being an abstract, uncountable noun but is definded in Wiktionary as:

impracticality (countable and uncountable, plural impracticalities)

  1. The state or quality of being impractical
  1. Something which is impractical.

The Oxford Learners Dictionary says that impracticality can be used as both a countable and an uncountable noun and says that its plural is impracticalities but does not offer examples of its use as a countable noun.

The Wiktionary entry suggests that it should be possible to say things like

"The proposal is attractive but is, unfortunately, an impracticality.

However I have only seen the plural used to express the fact that there are multiple ways in which something is impractical by saying things like.

Unfortunately the proposal suffers from many impracticalities

I offer 'impracticality' as a possibility but only if you accept the second Wiktionary definition.

  • I like “the proposal...”. It’s not exactly what I was looking for (see my comment to Diazenylium) but it’s something new to me
    – Ibby
    Sep 28 '20 at 0:40

Consider words in the direction of Unserviceable. Though it doesn't refer to the 'noun portion' of your question, it does directly relate to the context of policy.


I imagine that there are theories without practical applications, and, versa, as with the futility of asking about the reason we exist, but, how can a good theory not jibe with its practical application(s)? Don't we have to, in practice, rigorously check out theoretical predictions, etc, before we decide, how good are the theories?

How about, a good try at a theory? A non-working theory, like String Theory, which, as far as I know, never predicted anything that could be physically checked out? Or paradoxical theory? Relativity Theory, and Quantum Theory are viable theories, in practice, but, continue to appear to, I guess, mostly disagree with each other.

For something to be good in theory, but not also in practice, leads me to question either, or both.

  • 2
    How is this an answer to the question?
    – Robusto
    Sep 27 '20 at 23:19
  • 2
    It doesn’t but it was a good read
    – Ibby
    Sep 28 '20 at 0:15

Word or phrase for an idea that is good in theory but not practice.

The simplest is flawed

Said Zaven Khachaturian, a former director of Alzheimer's research at the National Institute on Aging: 'Every major pharmaceutical company put money into the amyloid idea, and they all failed because the idea was flawed.

American Heritage Dictionary

flaw 1. n.

2. A defect or shortcoming in something intangible: The two leaders share the flaw of arrogance.

flaw 1 (flô) tr.v. flawed, flaw·ing, flaws

To cause a flaw in; make defective: an argument that was flawed by specious reasoning.


flawed adjective

Definition of flawed: having a defect or imperfection: a flawed diamond; a flawed plan

Synonyms [...] defective, faulty, imperfect.


Shortsighted - not taking likely future developments into account
Example: Environmentalists fear that this is a short-sighted approach to the problem of global warming.

Improvident - failing to provide for the future; lacking foresight or thrift
Example: The improvident worker saved no money.

Unsound - based on faulty ideas
Example: The thinking is muddled and fundamentally unsound.



A boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.

"A waste of both time and money" is the worst case, and the Wikipedia article goes on to mention some "successful boondoggles". Also, boondoggles are frequently associated with "graft", which isn't always to blame. In many situations, the people backing the idea had good intentions but not enough experience to properly estimate the costs. The idea may be a type of Anti-pattern:

An anti-pattern is a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive.

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    Oct 30 '21 at 20:41

rabbit hole:

...in which the pursuit of something (such as an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems, or pursuits


a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position


Since the OP has said that ... Athing even remotely related would be appreciated., I suggest

Rube Goldberg

Ingeniously or unnecessarily complicated in design or construction.

Rather than going about things in a straightforward manner, she devises stratagems, the complexities of which are analogous to the workings of a Rube Goldberg project.




2a. deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment

2b. not previously subjected to experimentation or a particular experimental situation

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