Edited: I was wondering what is the AE idiom / expression in casual / informal speech which describes someone with little or no ability to do something well?
Such people often have a great difficulty in doing some specific deals. When it comes to some particular actions (say dating a girl here,) they are not considered as capable people. I.e. they are physically awkward and perform actions in an awkward way.

Let me give you an example:

  • I don't like finding my life companion online.
    Turning a penpal to a soulmate is something that a / an ........ (person) would do and not a person who can manage their own affairs.
    I would definitely prefer to be single rather than date someone online.

Some options cross my mind; such as "ineffectual", "weakling", "incompetent", "incapable" and "bumbling". As you know, all these words have some overlaps, but first most of them sound a bit stilted or at least formal in terms of formality; on the other hand I am not quite confident which one encapsulates my explanations regarding such a person.

PS. I am well aware that this is a subjective matter and has its own pros and cons! However, that was a scenario that crossed my mind out of the blue and I decided to bring it up here for clarification and it has nothing to do with my mindset. I wonder if you could consider it from the linguistic perspective.

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    I think there is no one word for this. The one you want depends heavily on context, and on a nuanced analysis of what you want to say. In addition to the words you suggest, consider "timid", "hesitant", "shy", "bumbling", "unfocused", ... Roget's Thesaurus may be your friend. Nov 23, 2021 at 23:14
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    Turning a penpal into a soul mate sounds like something wonderful. What's so inept about that?
    – gotube
    Nov 25, 2021 at 2:28
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    I see @Elliek. let me try it with some other examples. :) I am looking for a word which can be used in order to define someone who lacks enough capability to perform some actions which require some capabilities / abilities. For instance, say making money! Although there are many ways to earn money, however, there are many people who are unable (say due to the lack of enough courage to go out and find a way) to find a way! Or say a student who has finished his studies 3 years ago, but still unemployed! Or suppose someone who doesn't know how should fight for his rights!
    – A-friend
    Nov 25, 2021 at 10:39
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    Or imagine a submissive child who other children use his toys and he just and looking at this eats him from inside but prefers to stay calm, because "doesn't know" what have to do! Or a woman who's husband cheats him, but just keeps calm, because she lacks the needed capability to fend for herself and ask for her primary rights to be served! I hope I'm getting my point across now.
    – A-friend
    Nov 25, 2021 at 10:39
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    @A-friend - Aha! You are looking for the word inept. The definition fits perfectly. It even hints that the word could imply clumsiness. I see that you mention it in one of your replies. Inept covers a broad range of topics and inefficiencies. It should work nicely.
    – EllieK
    Nov 29, 2021 at 13:30

2 Answers 2


In New York at least, we'd often call such a person a "schlemiel". If that doesn't work for you, then I'd recommend a thesaurus, as Ethan Bolker suggested. E.g., there are plenty of synonyms here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/schlemiel


"All thumbs" might do for physical ineptitude. Not so much for "making money or dealing with the unprecedented.


  • As you mentioned, "all thumbs" is used for "physical ineptitude," as it goes with "clumsy" and "klutz(y)". They mostly refer to someone with weak control over holding things and who usually ends of dropping or breaking them. Whereas I was going to accentuate someone's lack of competence in doing something. Someone not skillful enough to manage to do something like making money, living alone, cooling etc.
    – A-friend
    Nov 24, 2021 at 0:46

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