I need to used this in context of information technology phrase "garbage in - garbage out". Except I'm trying to describe a situation where garbage out looks very convincing and useful to a human analyst (but it might as well be garbage)

How would I say this? Garbage in _____ out

The word garbage doesn't fit because garbage is easy to spot, ____ is not easy to identify as garbage.

  • garbage in, garbage out is the very phrase thought up to explain this, so I'm not sure why you want to change it. The reason is that I'm trying to describe the limits of AI GAN systems. Garbage in is biased training data and the garbage out are very convincing images. Because seeing is believing, these images are hard for a human analyst to dismiss as being faulty in any way - and yet they are. An incorrectly used AI GAN system can actively "trick" the human into accepting false information as true. In that sense it's worse than garbage. Jun 6, 2019 at 19:59
  • 1
    "Fool's gold" is your term Jul 19, 2019 at 20:55

5 Answers 5


Unless someone has a better idea, I'm starting to gravitate towards answering my own question with "garbage in bullshit out"

(Inspired by fool's gold comment)


What is produced is something that looks promising or useful, but is actually not.

A comment under the question suggested fool's gold. That matches similar metaphors of false promises, empty promises, illusions, and even ersatz (although that's an adjective). Whatever is chosen needs to appear to be useful or of quality on the surface, but end up not being so upon examination.

A more literal noun, but one that still has a metaphoric sense, is:

Garbage in, baubles out.

In this case, a bauble is something that looks shiny and appealing, but doesn't have much value.

From Merriam-Webster:

1 : TRINKET sense 1
// He affixed the bauble, with a kiss, upon her middle finger …
— Elinor Wylie
2 : a scepter of a fool (see FOOL entry 1 sense 2a)
// … the licensed jester … brandished his bauble
— Sir Walter Scott
3 : something of trifling appeal
4 British : ORNAMENT
specifically : a Christmas ornament
// Our tree was decorated, most tastefully, with apt baubles bought from Georg Jensen.
— Geoffrey Wolff

Cubic Zirconia is an example of a bauble replacing what, prior to examination, appears to be a diamond.

  • An ornament doesn't really work here in my opinion. It's not garbage, it's just purely for decorative purpose.
    – Gamora
    Jun 6, 2019 at 13:02
  • I think that depends on your definition of useful... ornaments are useful for their intended purpose, i.e. looking nice
    – Gamora
    Jun 6, 2019 at 15:38
  • @Bee In order for something to appear to not be garbage on the surface, it needs to appear to be useful or have a purpose. The question doesn't define what the purported purpose is. (Garbage, if organic, actually can serve a purpose—composting; so, there must be a metaphorical aspect to both parts of the expression.) Jun 6, 2019 at 15:41
  • Well I did say it depends on your definition of useful. Personally I don't think an ornament can be considered garbage, otherwise you would consider everything which doesn't have a use outside of "looking pretty" as garbage. I.e. all art would be garbage.
    – Gamora
    Jun 6, 2019 at 15:46
  • @Bee In terms of high-society jewellery there is a difference between diamonds and baubles. Similarly, in terms of prestige transport, there is a difference between Ferraris and kit cars that only look like Ferraris. Or between original artwork and reproductions or forgeries. Pick any context, and I can come up with garbage in, [something that looks high quality but is actually not at all] out. Jun 6, 2019 at 15:53

Since there doesn't seem to be a word that fits well in the phase you're currently using. Might I suggest just using the following phrase instead:

You can't polish a turd which essentially means you can't improve something which is already bad.

There are a few variations to the phase you could always consider:

You can't polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.

You can polish a turd, but it's still a piece of sh*t.

Since this is quite a well established phase, most people will understand if you reference it in a slightly less common manner.


Garbage in, polished garbage out.

Garbage in, polished turds out.

Obviously this is a fairly vulgar phase so won't be appropriate in all situations.


I'm not sure there is a single word you can substitute for "garbage" in this saying that will make sense in a data context (by the way, I am an information analyst). If you know that you have put "garbage in" then it doesn't really make sense to say in the same breath that you get anything other than garbage out. If you try to substitute it with a word that carries even some value, it doesn't really carry the full impact of what you need to say, which is that the output is wrong, and potentially misleading.

In my field of work we normally use expressions like "flawed" or "skewed" to describe aggregated figures which are wrong because of the process by which it was created - either bad data or flawed logic. If the end-user of a report is not aware of the logic behind the calculations or does not fully appreciate how the data going into a system may affect reporting then they may be looking at flawed data not knowing that it is incorrect. "Garbage in, garbage out" is the very phrase thought up to explain this, so I'm not sure why you want to change it.

If your intention is to state that end-users may get false data without realising it then my advice is to go with a word synonymous with misleading, because that is basically what it is if the data looks right, but isn't.

Garbage in, misleading data out.

Okay, so it isn't snappy - but I think it is what you mean to say. If you knew you were getting garbage out you'd put it straight in the bin and start again. The actual scenario you are trying to describe is one where the person getting figures out of a system doesn't know that it is garbage or something of little value.

Some other great words you might use instead include erroneous (wrong; incorrect) and fallacious (based on a mistaken belief), but the key thing is that your audience understands what you are saying and the gravity of it.

I do love some of the other suggestions you have had, but they don't really slot into the saying like you perhaps hoped. Sayings like "chocolate fireguard" are usually part of a simile, ie "as much use as a chocolate fireguard". But again, the reason I am shying away from sayings like that is that false data can be used! You can report garbage to your boss and he/she may never realise! The issue isn't really that it cannot be used, but that it is wrong, and that is what my answer is focusing on.


If a person (or an AI machine) is fed with wrong or misleading data, what they can conclude or deduce can be described by the following terms:

So you could say "Garbage in, error out".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .