I used to use deus ex machina but recently found out that it's an unexpected solution to a problem (used in movie plots when someone swoops in and saves the day when all was supposedly lost).

I'm looking for a phrase which embodies the following concept. "XXX is a theory which has been abused as a YYY", meaning that due to the nature of XXX, it can be used to explain away several hypotheses without real justification.

  • 2
    Can you provide a concrete example of a theory XXX that was used misapplied as YYY?
    – Jay Elston
    Nov 13 '12 at 18:45
  • Using the Deus Ex Machina to mean "A solution to all problems" isn't entirely unfounded: It came from a particular practice in old Greek religious plays of winching in an actor playing a god who would then proceed to solve all the unresolved problems that had arisen during the course of the plot. The use of the term to mean "a solution that comes out of nowhere" didn't arise until it became widely realized that a Deus Ex Machina can be an unsatisfying conclusion to a narrative if the audience doesn't see it coming, which was only the case in plays that weren't based on religious stories.
    – user867
    Nov 15 '12 at 6:57
  • ...Or so my high school Literature teacher taught me.
    – user867
    Nov 15 '12 at 7:01

You could try panacea:

a remedy for all ills or difficulties : cure-all

In context,

The law will improve the lives of local farmers, but it is no panacea.

If you are open to using something a little more idiomatic, you could try silver bullet:

: something that acts as a magical weapon; especially : one that instantly solves a long-standing problem

  • Silver bullet's exactly what I was looking for. Panacea doesn't feel right when talking about a theory.
    – Jacob
    Nov 13 '12 at 17:06
  • The part about "without real justification" seems to me more on the panacea side and less on the silver bullet side.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 13 '12 at 18:45

The phrase deus ex machina may actually be an appropriate choice here as, rather than an all-encompassing solution, it refers to a contrived or artificial solution. This is why it is popular in Hollywood; coming up with a realistic, practical solution is difficult. The translation from Latin, “from the machine a ghost”, indicates that it refers to a surprising but impossible or inappropriate event.

  • 2
    Actually, "a god from the machine", the machine being the crane used to fly in the actor playing the god. Nov 15 '12 at 3:11

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