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I'm looking for a term used when a gift/gesture/allowance of some sort isn't anywhere near good enough, and was done largely for the sake of appearance. Often used in a political context.

For example, a group is saying that the education system is in desperate need of more funding. The political party budgets several million dollars for school so that they can look good on paper, but anyone who actually does the math can see that once you divide the money up between all the schools, it's barely enough to buy one new library book per school.

It's something in roughly the same vein as "a band-aid solution", but it carries with it the implication that the giver is only doing it for the sake of appearances, and the receiver is offended by such a paltry offering.

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  • There are lots of metaphors that deal with this very common situation. My favorite is giving someone a lick and a promise, which brings dog behavior into the context, though it doesn't quite mention what part of the dog is being licked. May 15 at 17:24
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    "Token gesture" might fit in this instance.
    – Joe Dark
    May 15 at 18:07

5 Answers 5

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Token. Tokenism.

If you refer to an action as tokenism, you disapprove of it because you think it is just done for effect, in order to show a particular intention or to impress a particular type of person. [disapproval] Is his promotion evidence of the minorities' advance, or mere tokenism?

Used in phrases such as "a token gesture", "a token effort" or "a token black character"

For the specific example in the OP, you could call it "a token amount" or "a token contribution"

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The expression window dressing may fit in the context you are describing:

things that are of no real importance and are said or done in order to make an attractive effect:

  • How many of the candidate's policies are real intentions, and how many are just window dressing?

(Cambridge Dictionary)

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throw (someone) a bone (idiom)

Informal

To offer (someone) something that is not very important or valuable especially to stop complaints or protests

The boss would not let his workers out early for the holiday but threw them a bone by buying lunch. M-W

throw a bone to (phrase)

Give someone only a token concession.

Was the true purpose of the minimum wage hike to throw a bone to the unions?

I bet this was already obsolete in design and technology some years back, and they wanted to throw a bone to the public. Lexico


Angry at the betrayal of their supposed friends and allies, SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] lashed out that “this token offer of recognition was too much like the usual bone thrown to Negroes who showed signs of revolt.” Harvard Sitkoff; The Struggle for Black Equality (2008)

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Smoke and mirrors

Merriam-Webster:

Something intended to disguise or draw attention away from an often embarrassing or unpleasant issue

Example: The recent school budget increase is just smoke and mirrors.

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pandering often has a connotation that what is given is woefully short of that which is necessary. One would, in a lazy attempt to placate others, pander to their constituents by providing or proposing some superficial offering instead of committing the hard work of solving any of substantive underlying challenges.

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