When visiting Casinos, Vegas, Hollywood blvd, Dubai etc one is overwhelmed with marketing about how fabulous they are. But once actually there, something feels off. There’s nothing specific one can single out to explain this feeling, but it just feels as though the surface-level extravagance is hiding something. Like the brilliance is only skin deep. Like pretty wallpaper covering a rotting wall.

Is there a word for this?

Dictionary and thesaurus searches only seem to show positive words like “grand” or “extravagant”, or negative words that have a sense of obviousness eg “fake”, “tacky”. These words seem to describe either good or bad. There is no sense of an underlying, hidden, negative aspect.

Ideally one could use this word in a sentence like: “Vegas is x”, “Vegas has a sense of x”, “Vegas makes me feel x”.

Thanks guys

  • 2
    Are you after a word for the place or how it makes you feel? Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 5:25
  • 2
    Glitzy is negative word, with plenty of synonyms to be found. Note that Hollywood is sometimes called Tinseltown. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 6:47
  • 3
    'Fake' means having an underlying, hidden, negative aspect. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 9:58
  • 1
    This brings to mind the term Putting Lipstick on a Pig. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 12:51
  • 3
    You assume that the surface extravagance is 'hiding something', that there is a something like a 'rotting wall' behind it. Some people, however, upon vising such places may have a different feeling: a feeling of vacuousness, of there being nothing behind the appearances.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 15:43

16 Answers 16


Given appropriate context, superficial could convey such a property.

not thorough, deep, or complete; cursory. "he had only the most superficial knowledge of foreign countries"

lacking depth of character or understanding. "perhaps I was a superficial person"

(From Oxford Languages, from the Google results)

While it can be used to mean various things, I think if you described a city as superficial it would usually be understood to imply that, as you say, "the surface-level extravagance is hiding something". However, depending on the specific instance this could be misunderstood (for example as describing the people rather than the buildings).

  • 1
    This is the best answer
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:48
  • Superficial definitely conveys that the surface appearance does not match what is really there - but fails to connote that what is really there is actually negative.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:40
  • I think those quotes establish how superficial could be used for this, but currently isn't. A quick "las vegas superficial" search got me: "Vegas can be stiflingly superficial, sure. But it can also be surprisingly kind." This confirms my feeling: superficial used about a place is generally about the people not being kind/friendly, not about the place itself. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 23:49

While I don't think there's a perfect word for you situation, one that comes close is "tawdry" looking bright and attractive but in fact cheap and of low quality. (Cambridge)

"Gaudy" unpleasantly bright in colour or decoration is also applicable and also negative.

Others that may be useful in forming a picture are "gilded" or "gold-plated". The impression I got of Vegas was gold-plated fibreglass -- shiny but not even solid. Continuing in a similar direction we have "thinly-veiled" but thinly-veiled what? A casino may be a thinly-veiled attempt to extract your money in the guise of entertainment, but the ambience isn't quite that of a thinly-veiled con. A veneer of sophistication (or of something similar) could be a useful phrase too.

An (almost) applicable description is "Little expense had been spared to give the impression that no expense had been spared", which is a quote form The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.

As for the feelings it invokes, the words would be very different - "unease" for example.

  • 1
    Tawdy reminds me of the Yiddish ongepotchket "Excessively and unaesthetically decorated; overly baroque." (Rosten)
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 13:06
  • 3
    "Gaudy" is a great word for OP, "tawdry" would probably describe the older, run down casinos.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:56
  • @RonJohn my understanding of "tawdry" also has a hint of a cheap superficial attempt to brighten up something run-down, but it's not supported by the dictionaries I looked in. There are certainly places in Vegas that fit that description, even if you don't apply it to the whole city
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:44
  • You're absolutely right. (Not that anyone uses tawdry anymore, since it would be... judgmental!!!!)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 1:15


having an unnatural or false appearance or quality : ARTIFICIAL, LABORED m-w

Deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously.

Created or arranged in a way that seems artificial and unrealistic. Lexico

If you see something that seems fake since it was too perfectly planned out, call it contrived. Vocabulary.com

But the modern practice of urban development does not have these features. It does not deal with growing wholes at all.

First, ...

Second, the growth is not, in any deep sense, unpredictable. It tends, most often, to be controlled by conceptions, plans, maps and schemes. But these plans do have the capacity to generate a growing wholeness. Instead the force an artificial, contrived kind of wholeness.

Third, ... The order is superficial, skin deep, only in the plan or in some contrived orderliness of the arrangements. There is no deep inner coherence, which can be felt in every doorway, every step, and every street. ref.

Boston itself was a more peaceful city than New York, and had a charm reminiscent of a European town, with its less-planned, less-contrived layout reminding him particular of Rouen, and its many gray and white buildings bring back memories of Paris. ref.

...a sort of Sundy-go-to-meetin kind of look about this part of the city, that I don't like a bit better than I do the pinched up, narrow contrived appearance of the rest. ref.

These geometric pools are often found in city courtyards or adjacent to period homes built in the French renaissance or Italian ... It is easy to make mistakes and end up with a contrived appearance when combining rocks, plants, and water. ref.

  • 1
    Contrived definitely conveys that the surface appearance has been deliberately constructed to deceive - but fails to connote that what is really there is actually negative.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:41

it just feels as though the surface-level extravagance is hiding something.

façade noun (FALSE APPEARANCE)
a false appearance that makes someone or something seem more pleasant or better than they really are

Tacky (adjective)
Things that are tacky are cheap, flashy, garish, gaudy, loud, tawdry, or trashy. Tacky clothes are usually inexpensive yet flashy and showy — obnoxious.

Like the brilliance is only skin deep.

As others have mentioned, gold-plated, gilded. Sometimes written as gilt.

Like pretty wallpaper covering a rotting wall.

Paper-over (verb)
To hide an unpleasant situation, especially a problem or disagreement, in order to make people believe that it does not exist or is not serious


Lexico gives:


Pronunciation /pəˈtem(p)kən/ /pəˈtɛm(p)kən/

ADJECTIVE (informal):

Having a false or deceptive appearance, especially one presented for the purpose of propaganda.

Origin: 1930s from Grigori Aleksandrovich Potyomkin (often transliterated Potemkin), a favorite of Empress Catherine II of Russia, who reputedly gave the order for sham villages to be built for the empress's tour of the Crimea in 1787.

  • 1
    Potemkin definitely conveys that the surface appearance does not match what is really there - but fails to connote that what is really there is actually negative. Rather, there is nothing really there.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:43

Veneered may be suitable for usage.

  • Cover or disguise (someone or something's true nature) with an attractive appearance

There's pretentious which means to put on appearances and/or act like you're better than you really are at one or more aspects: intelligence, skill, sophistication, class, fame, importance, wealth, power, charisma, street cred, etc.

attempting to impress by effecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed. "a pretentious literary device"


In the given context overhyped would apply.

Lexico gives the following definition of 'overhype'

Make exaggerated claims about (a product, idea, or event); publicize or promote excessively.

With the example

‘the film was overhyped by the press’

The example specifically mentions advertising and also describes the feeling of disappointment when visiting the establishment and finding that it is not glamorous as the hype claimed.

  • 2
    Overhyped seems more general. An overhyped can-opener isn't bad since it's got cheap gold-plate; it just doesn't work as well as promised. I think the 1st part of the Q emphasizes the amount of "hype", but the 2nd part is the real Q -- what is thin surface-level extravagance. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 15:48

I don't know if it'll help, but decadent, although it's typically used as a positive, ("decadent chocolate cake", "decadent jewels", etc.) was originally a term that meant "decaying" or "declining" (M-W)

The feeling you're describing isn't exactly a feeling of decline or decay, but there is a bit of "not all there that could be" that is at least tangentially related to decay and decline.


There does not seem to exist a term that will convey your compounding of ideas properly; there are two ideas. The best you might do is try yourself at combining telling terms; your expression will thereby only be the more accurate; often, in problems of description the most profitable rule is "the more words, the better". Here is an example below that you might emulate so as to get more precisely still at what you want to say.

The term "window dressing" does communicate the idea of fake display, but doesn't insist on an underlying rottenness.

(Merriam-Webster) 2 a : the act or an instance of making something appear deceptively attractive or favorable b : something used to create a deceptively favorable or attractive impression

The term "faded glory", assuming that the idea of a rotting foundation refers to the lackadaisical attitude of those business owners in putting their money where their mouth is, will carry the idea of an unattended, oldish structure that nobody puts much faith in.

(urban Dictionary) The phenomena of once being great

So you might find that the following approximates sufficiently well what you experience.

  • The whole business gives off an air of window dressing as a patching for faded glory.
  • ["There does not seem to exist a term" should be: A term does not seem to exist that]
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 22:38
  • @Lambie google.fr/books/edition/…
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 3:34
  • Tu sais très bien ce que je voulais dire: signaler les multiples fautes de rédactions. Et s'il te plait, arrête d'utiliser "user" + le nom. Ça fait ringard.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 14:29
  • Je parle de signaler tes fautes dans toutes tes réponses en anglais ici. C'est claire, maintenant?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 14:58
  • @Lambie Oui, alors c'est bien "j'en passe".
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 15:00

anticlimax (anticlimactic)? (Apple Dictionary: “a disappointing end to an exciting or impressive series of events”. From “climax”, which is the exciting end of a story.)
(I shall mention the following while I am here. vacuous? spurious?)

  • Anticlimactic might be one's feeling upon arriving at Vegas and it not being what one had hoped - but does not convey that what is actually there is more sinister.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:44


From a Latin word meaning empty, implying that something appears to have substance, but is actually devoid of it.

There’s nothing specific one can single out to explain this feeling, but it just feels as though the surface-level extravagance is hiding something. Like the brilliance is only skin deep. Like pretty wallpaper covering a rotting wall.

Your description very accurately summarizes a feeling which English speaking writers in Christendom have used the words "vain" and "vanity" to describe for a few centuries.

For example, in an 1800s translation of Introduction to the Devout Life:

Everyone strives who shall carry most vanity to the ball; and vanity is so congenial, as well to evil affections as to dangerous familiarities, that both are easily engendered by dancing.

And again in the same place:

Alas! whilst you were there, time was passing away, and death was approaching nearer: behold how he mocks you, and invites you to his dance, in which the groans of your friends shall serve for the music, and where you shall make but one step from this life to the next. The dance of death is, alas! the true pastime of mortals, since by it we instantly pass from the vain amusements of this world to the eternal pleasures or pains of the next.

(Source: Immaculatalibrary)

  • You might quote the passages from Ecclesiastes.
    – Kirt
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:47
  • I thought of that, but it's actually making a different/bigger point than what the asker is looking for, which is limited to specific scenarios.
    – Steven
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 20:50

What about meretricious (adj)

apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity. (Google Dictionary)

It originally was used to refer to prostitutes, so it might carry the nuance of "tainted by the reality of an economic exchange."


My suggestion is the word meretricious, meaning:

showy; gaudy; tawdry; based on pretense; false

If there is a better word to describe the superficial glitz and supposed "glamor" of Las Vegas's tourist mecca, I am not sure what it would be.


insincere came to mind, especially if you're looking for something to evoke more emotion, rather than just an objective description.

The definition of insincere often says 'not sincere' and I didn't find another great definition of it for you - so take the opposite of the following:

sincere means:

free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.

marked by genuineness

free of dissimilation (where dissimulation means 'to hide under a false appearance')

  • I'm not sure you can apply insincere to inanimate objects such as buildings. Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 2:09
  • I agree, but I think it works with 'Las Vegas' and the other examples given since the promise of grandeur goes beyond the inanimate objects. And the OP mentions 'marketing' to which this could certainly be applied. Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 2:40

chimera (n)

Vegas is a chimera - an illusion or fabrication of the mind

impalpable (adj)

Vegas has a sense of impalpability - lacking material substance

incorporeal (adj)

Vegas makes me feel incorporeal - not corporeal : having no material body or form

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    – fev
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 18:50

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