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Is there a word for anything that is a con and a pro at the same time. I mean it is both good and bad, has both a minus and a plus, is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

  • A second entrance door is a ____
  • Two heads is a ____
  • A fifth wheel is a ____ for a car.
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    One thing that is a bit odd about this question for me is that I can't figure out what the "pro" side of having two heads or having a fifth wheel is. A second entrance door? I guess that's good sometimes... I'm not so sure what's good about that either, unless the place is large enough that it helps. Perhaps you could edit this to be a bit more clear with a complete example, such as "Getting married is great because you get to live with the love of your life, although the downside is that you are no longer completely independent and have to work on the relationship constantly." – Todd Wilcox Sep 6 '18 at 18:54
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    Regarding my other comment, it's a common idiom in American English that a fifth wheel is useless and annoying to have around. "I felt like a fifth wheel" is something people say when they have been with a group of people where they didn't fit in and didn't have a good time. Two wheels requires balance. Three wheels solves that problem but can be harder to steer and be ungainly. Four wheels is very stable and effective and easy to use, but potentially costs the most. Five wheels? There's no benefit to a fifth wheel that I can think of. – Todd Wilcox Sep 6 '18 at 18:56
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    Off the top of my head an example might be having a vending machine in your office. Being able to grab some food without leaving the building is a pro! The way the machine encourages you to eat junk food instead of proper meals is a con! All in all the vending machine is a ____. I like both the top answers, mixed blessing and two edged sword. – Eric Nolan Sep 7 '18 at 8:56
  • @ToddWilcox Fifth wheel is what makes semi trucks possible. I guess nobody would agree that there is no benefit to a crucial component of modern logistics : ) – Agent_L Sep 10 '18 at 8:21
83

A good term for that is a mixed blessing. You would use it like

Being the only person in town who could read or write was a mixed blessing; the villagers were impressed and respectful, but they also came to me with a non-stop flow of letters to read, contracts to sign, etc.

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    No, we always say something is a mixed blessing: books.google.com/ngrams/… – stangdon Sep 5 '18 at 12:11
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    +1. is is how you will hear it with the singular blessing, but you can also say that something brings mixed blessings (plural) – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 5 '18 at 12:28
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    "Is" a mixed blessing, is correct, and the answer I'd choose – Stilez Sep 5 '18 at 16:50
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    @SovereignSun: Having a fifth wheel for the car is a mixed blessing; it helps in case of flat tyre, but otherwise takes space in the boot. – Matthieu M. Sep 6 '18 at 9:18
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    @SovereignSun : The summer house is something of a mixed blessing; it's nice to have a place to go on vacation, but it requires a lot of maintenance and the taxes on it are very high. – stangdon Sep 6 '18 at 14:48
76

A common expression is a double-edged sword:

something that has or can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences

Here is an example of it in use, showing the subject's positive and negative effects, from an article titled, Technology is a double-edged sword:

...innovation is a double-edged sword. Digital technology is indeed creative, in the sense that it enables us to do new things that were hitherto impossible....But technology is also destructive in the sense that it destroys or undermines things that are valuable: bookshops and print newspapers...


Alternate versions of the same concept are "two-edged sword" and "it cuts both ways".

So we could reword the above example as either:

... innovation is a two-edged sword.

or:

... innovation cuts both ways.

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    just to clarify, the origin of this idiom is that a double-edged sword can be swung in two directions without having to twist it to face the direction of movement. The con is that you can't brace your hand against the back of the blade to block or apply more force (unlike a cutlass or a kitchen-knife for example) so what you gain in improved agility must be weighed against a reduction in versatility. – Ruadhan2300 Sep 5 '18 at 14:46
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    @Ruadhan2300 Huh, I always assumed that the sword had a "good" edge and a "bad" edge... makes more sense that a literal double edged sword would be a figurative one as well. – BallpointBen Sep 5 '18 at 15:23
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    @Ruadhan2300 I'm not sure that's actually the true etymology. This answer claims it's originally from the idea that a two-edged sword "cuts both ways/cuts twice"; and most dictionaries seem to back that up: english.stackexchange.com/questions/60728/… The change in meaning to be "both good and bad" seems to have developed later. – Bilkokuya Sep 5 '18 at 15:35
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    There may be multiple idioms that have been conflated, that one seems to be focused on the double-edged sword being a "double-whammy" or "twofer", rather than it being both a good and bad thing at once, which is the more common modern usage. – Ruadhan2300 Sep 5 '18 at 15:45
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    @Bilkokuya it's worth noting that cuts both ways also refers to both good and bad. I always thought the origin referred to melee fighting where the attack stroke would injure your enemy, but if you didn't watch out, the backswing could take out an ally. – mcalex Sep 6 '18 at 8:54
31

Something that has both good and bad qualities can be said to be a blessing and a curse:

Something that is both a benefit and a burden or that may seem initially beneficial but also brings unforeseen negative consequences.

Here's an example sentence:

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse—a blessing in that you have easy access to all the information in the world without having to leave your house, but a curse in that it gives evil people like terrorists and pedophiles an easy tool that they can use to commit their crimes.

23

Another phrase for something that has both positive and negative aspects is a mixed bag.

Here is an example of how it's used in a sentence.

The service at the restaurant was a mixed bag. The staff were very friendly, however, the service was incredibly slow and we had to wait nearly half an hour until our food was served.

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    To me, "mixed bag" suggests a wide variety in quality – some good, some average, some poor – of outcome, as experienced in the past. "A second entrance door is a mixed bag" - No. "Two heads is a mixed bag" - No. Example from your dictionary: "His performance was a mixed bag" - Yes. – Nigel Touch Sep 5 '18 at 17:21
16

Maybe the term trade-off?

Although it is sometimes used to describe a compromise which may be neither the "pro" nor the "con" but somewhere in-between, it is also often used to describe something which has both pros and cons.

For example a piece of software that lacks some features of one competitor (so has cons) but has advantages over another (pros) may be described as "a good trade-off".

  • 1
    I find myself using this one often in the workplace, as in: "There is no right or wrong answer here – everything's a trade-off." – J.R. Sep 6 '18 at 7:16
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    Yes, I'd rather used that if it implies compromise. I don't think it is appropriate for situations where this does not happen. – JuanRocamonde Sep 6 '18 at 15:37
3

I suspect this is quite a niche colloquialism (I'm English) but we use the term swings and roundabouts to describe something that can be positive or negative, ie where there are two options, both having positive and negatives but overall adding up to making no real difference.

Related question on ELU: Why does 'swings and roundabouts' mean 'gains and losses that offset each other'?

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