Aside from the fact that you can actually polish a turd, it's a bit of scatology that might potentially be best flushed away. It came up in an answer to another question and I feel like it's worth discussing alternatives.

It might be nice to have something less colloquial and talking about the content.

What might be some less crappy ways we can talk about posts that aren't really salvageable?


4 Answers 4


I'm not sure we can find a better metaphor. I do understand nobody likes their post being called a turd, but it's difficult to find something which is worth less than sand and still not belittling. One metaphor I do like is this: desperate attempts to fortify sandcastles to save them from the inevitable tide. Sandcastles may be beautiful in the eye of the children who made them (just like new users' posts here) but are barely more than humps of sand to others.

My two cents would be that we skip the metaphor section and settle for something more direct, 'content beyond repair' or something. But I'm sure native speakers will come up with something better.

  • 6
    There's also 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic' that I've seen floating around somewhere, but turds just get the point across better.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 6:22
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    I think a turd is anyone can understand, but the Titanic might be something younger users never heard off..., gosh I feel old already. @Tinkeringbell
    – Luuklag
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 8:18
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    If you have produced a "turd" of a queation, it might not be something you want to hear, but it's something you need to hear. Sometimes lifes messages are hard. The natural outcome of not hearing that message, and continuing to post "turd" questions, will inevitably be a question ban. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 8:27
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    @chrisneilsen If someone produces a turd, they might need to know they did so... but they also need to know how they produced a turd that doesn't deserve polishing. The latter will probably help much more in avoiding producing more turds
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 11:31

Let's try to go back to the source. There are two words to consider.

  • Turd. In this context, it means a question or answer that is of bad quality and can't be salvaged by edits.
  • Polishing. In this context, it means someone trying to improve the post anyway by editing it.

The term "turd polishing" is just really accurate, in this context, and really catchy, hence used so widely.

But there is other term which will still be accurate, most of the times: cosmetic repair.

Edit that, for example, fix the grammar in a post with bad quality, is exactly this: only cosmetic, and failing to fix the actual issue in the post.

So I suggest to switch over to cosmetic repair instead of turd polishing whenever discussing such things.

Usage example:

Bob: Did you see this edit by Joe? Such a waste of time.
Jane: Yeah, it's just cosmetic repair, that answer can't be salvaged. Should we let Joe know?

Disclaimer: this term popped up while I was looking around, in one of the answers to Phrase to describe a fix that doesn't address the underlying issue?. After some thought, decided it can indeed be fitting.

  • That's easy to say when yours is both like a wombat's and shiny, as is.
    – Rob
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 15:32
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    @Rob I wish. I also have my bad moments and bad posts; I accept my defeat and self delete when realizing it's a ---turd--- beyond repair. :) Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 15:41
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    The problem with this is that a cosmetic repair is something good in itself. There is generally nothing wrong with grammar/formatting fixes. If fails to catch the disposability essence that polishing a turd does so good. Just like a turd, those bad posts will soon be flushed - being closed and/or deleted - so there is no point in polishing them. On the other hand, a cosmetic repair is fine - as long as you're not applying it to a ..... turd...
    – Tomerikoo
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 19:12

We're talking here about phrases for pointlessly dressing something up. One of the oldest and most well known is

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

That seemed to be superseded by

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

And popularised in recent years by American politicians, though not invented by them was

Lipstick on a pig

Fundamentally you need something that gets across the pointlessness of what's being attempted and ideally the missed opportunity cost of spending that time doing something more productive such as answering a better question that doesn't need such polishing in the first place.

  • The don't teach a pig to sing is falsely attribute to Mark Twain. There are a lot of variants to it but I don't think any of them are adequate for SE. Otherwise I like this post since it broadens the perspectives on the issue but a substitute expression should be concise preferably using only 2 words.
    – bad_coder
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 12:40
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    These maxims and aphorisms are great and well understand by native speakers but can we say the same about non native speakers? I would stick to more literal phrases. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 13:55
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    I kind of like lipstick on a pig. It is something that would translate well to non-native speaking, and it doesn't require all the explanation of the silk purse and sows ear (an expression which, let's face it, a lot of native speakers have trouble with). Also, it's a funny mental picture, and thus lightens the mood a little. Downside: the possibility that someone thinks that we are referring to THEM as the pig, not their question. That would be bad.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 14:00
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    @Philippe same problem, "a pig" is considered dirty and impure in most cultures ("not Halal", "not Kosher"). While funny to some the expression would come with the strong insinuation the OP or his work aren't human, not worthy, dirty, thus passible of being dehumanized. That kind of expression would, again, be immediately weaponized by posters with malice or disregard towards others. Even if referring to someone's question it's still indecorous. No gains only gratuitous offense would come from it. Arguably it'd be substituting a poor expression by one that's worst.
    – bad_coder
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 15:15
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    @Philippe I have to agree with bad coder on this, as Jewish, though not religious. Also it's the first time ever I hear this term, so it's really not common outside of USA. Turd might be disgusting to most, but at least it has no religious issues. :) Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 15:42

Credit of the following goes to mickmackusa

unwanted posts

Sheer acumen.

edit to unwanted posts

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