TLDR: name for count of hiccups?

I'm trying to find a short¹ word for the count of undesirable events, up to some number of experiments, and tending to increase with the number of experiments as these undesirable things occur. The name should be usable for that count, and to name a function, in the math sense of that. A definition will be given, thus the word does not need to convey detail beyond undesirable. So far my best candidate is slack. Usage could be

  • The average slack up to 1000 (experiments) for this device is 42
  • The ratio of slack to experiment increases with temperature.
  • The slack of a device is defined as the function that given N, returns it's average slack up to N (experiments).
  • This technique leaves more slack than this other one.
  • It goes without saying that the slack is non-negative, and a non-decreasing function of the number of experiments in an experimental campaign.

The word should be recognizable by an educated international audience with English as a second language. It's OK, even desirable, if the word is colloquial, as long as it's universally safe for work.

What about slack versus leeway, (updated: hiccup, mishap, though that's more for the event itself than for the count of it) ? Anything better?

Note: I rule our plain error or defect because they imply the device is defective, when slack is something resulting from a deliberate cost/benefit tradeoff.

¹ Update: I realize, late, that I need a diminutive, and that's why I want it to be short. What my slack counts really is integers that we want prime, but are not. The research field (number theory) I apply to actual devices (Smart Cards) treats integers with utmost respect. Thus calling them error, defect or failure would be offensive.

  • I'm not sure I follow "I rule our plain error or defect because they imply the device is defective, when slack is something resulting from a deliberate cost/benefit tradeoff." in context of the first example. How is 42-slack-per-1000-experiments distinct from 42-defects-per-1000 or 42-failures-per-1000? (Or are you just stating that you just have a preference not to use those specific words?)
    – DotCounter
    May 19, 2022 at 19:44
  • @LetEpsilonBeLessThanZero: what my slack counts is integers that we want prime, and but are not. Since the research field (number theory) treats integers with utmost respect, calling them error, defect or failure would offensive. I realize, late, that I want a diminutive, and unconsciously expressed this as short.
    – fgrieu
    May 20, 2022 at 4:34
  • 2
    This use of "slack" doesn't seem familiar to me at all.
    – Barmar
    May 20, 2022 at 14:28
  • @Barmar: that's why I ask! Does "snag" sound any better where there is "slack"?
    – fgrieu
    May 20, 2022 at 16:19
  • @fgrieu Since "slack" seems totally wrong, practically anything would sound better.
    – Barmar
    May 20, 2022 at 16:21

5 Answers 5


From the context you have provided, it appears that

a) the register needs to be formal but should be universally understood.

b) the word should be a generic that refers to undesirable events of any nature - not just failure or a lag in operation or lacking in something.

Considering these aspects, how about 'snag'? The register is not very formal, though.

snag noun [ C ] /snæɡ/ a problem or difficulty

(Cambridge English dictionary)

  • Had not thought of that one. I like it. Safe for work enough. I have used "familiar" incorrectly in my question, I meant something like colloquial (en Français "language famillier"). So snag is a perfect fit for that intent.
    – fgrieu
    May 19, 2022 at 12:52
  • 1
    "Snag" is similar to "hiccup", "mishap", "error" and "defect" in that it refers to single events rather than the count of events.
    – NotThatGuy
    May 20, 2022 at 13:57
  • The OP asked for a word meaning 'the count'. The answer offered means 'the thing being counted'. And yet the OP seems to have accepted. Funny.
    – RicardoGMC
    May 26, 2022 at 9:54

Failure rate or failure-rate is obviously regarded as a compound noun by YourDictionary; it gives the hyphenated compound (though the examples it gives all use the open compound). The examples also show the common broadening, for instance to relationships, it seems:

Failure-rate: The frequency with which an engineered system or component fails, expressed for example in failures per hour.

  • Gabriel suspected there was nothing on the planet that might make her interested in an option that currently stood at failure rate of ninety nine percent.

  • The reason for the high failure rate may be that couples who choose to cohabitate have more liberal attitudes about marriage and divorce.

  • Every method has a small failure rate and side effects.

  • In general the failure rate of the implants is only 1 percent after one year.

  • This treatment has a failure rate of about 1-2 percent, apparently due to the mother's sensitization during pregnancy rather than at delivery.

And from the Sunday Times {via Collins}:

  • Agents said that one failed deal in ten was the mark of a good agent and that some would be experiencing a greater failure rate.
  • 1
    "Error rate" is another commonly-used closely-related term (at least it's commonly used in computing and statistics).
    – NotThatGuy
    May 20, 2022 at 13:45


  1. deficiency in amount or quality. a deficit in rainfall

2a. lack or impairment in an ability or functional capacity. cognitive deficits, a hearing deficit


The usage would change, slightly.

  • The average deficit up to 1000 (experiments) for this device is 42 units (milliseconds, milliamps, millimeters).
  • The deficit ratio increases with temperature.
  • Deficit has a tendency to suggest "less than zero", when the slack is non-negative.
    – fgrieu
    May 19, 2022 at 11:33

In the context you have provided, lag can be used. Lag is a particularly common in the gaming community.

Backlog is another words that can be used in contexts such as this. For e.g. backlog of unpaid bills.

  • Useful. Lag is great for shortness and undesirable, but is furiously associated with time, rather than a count. Backlog conveys count, bit is strongly associated with length of a queue growing and shrinking according to effort to reduce it, when slack can only increase with experiments. I'll add that requirement.
    – fgrieu
    May 19, 2022 at 11:23

Among the other good suggestions, I might add:


in its sense: failure to maintain an expected level, fulfill a goal, meet a deadline, etc.

Individual instances could be slips; the verb could be slipping or even slippaging.

  • Slippage carries the notion of measure, which is good. But when we go from slips to slippage, we loose the notion of discrete events that can be counted. There's also the unexpected issue that to the French part of an audience that's not thinking in English, slips decidedly are underpants, so the English word happens to be not so SFW in Frenglish. It's true French equivalent "glissement" is also quite long. I was trying to exclude other English words from a close register when specifying SFW.
    – fgrieu
    May 20, 2022 at 5:00

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