What is the word for something that is dysfunctional because of it being old and in use for a very long time?

I was having a conversation with my friend yesterday about the earphones I use with my computer:

Friend: Your earphones are horrible, one side does not work and voice is also disturbed.

Me: What do you expect? I have been using them for the past two years, this is how long they last.

When I was imagining this conversation about keys, I described keys as rusty, which will imply that they are old. Is there a word along the same line for dysfunctional cars, computers, or something similar?

7 Answers 7


In general, you can say things are worn out.

What do you expect? I've been using them for the past two years. They're worn out!

For many objects, there are alternative words, but they're less general:

For your car example, I'd say dilapidated. This word works best for larger, more complex objects. A house or car can be dilapidated, but the phrases ?dilapidated keys and ?dilapidated headphones sound weird to me. You can also say a car is broken down, but only if it doesn't actually move.

For keys, I agree that rusty works, but only if they're actually rusty. If they're worn down, I'd say they're worn.

Sometimes you don't need a special word. I might complain about my broken old headphones. You could also say they're in a state of disrepair, but it doesn't sound very conversational to me.

? This symbol means "This phrase is of dubious acceptability. I suggest you avoid this phrase."

  • Will not work for things like "genitalia".
    – Coreus
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 11:19

In addition to previously-suggested worn out (“Damaged and useless due to hard or continued use”) and dilapidated (“Having fallen into a state of disrepair or deterioration, especially through neglect”), and the less-appropriate antiquated (“old-fashioned, out of date”), consider the phrases run down (“being in poor repair : dilapidated”) and beat-up (“(chiefly of an object) Worn out by overuse; in a state of disrepair”).

Note, run-down is more often used to describe poor-condition houses, buildings, and neighborhoods than to describe small items like headphones.


You might get some mileage out of describing them as legacy hardware. Computer geeks will get it; I'm not sure how much currency it will have outside of that domain.

You could also describe them as old school, which is a generally positive expression that means they are from another (older) generation, but were respectably good at the time.

Old school is a more modern way of saying antique. If your earbuds are antiques, then they were probably among the first ones made. If they are antiquated, that means they are extremely out-of-date, but probably still functioning to some degree.


While most commonly used to refer to people, 'decrepit' also can mean just what you are describing. Definition 2 from Merriam-Webster shows:

  1. a : impaired by use or wear : worn-out
    b : fallen into ruin or disrepair

That online dictionary actually uses a car in their example of decrepit as well:

My decrepit car barely starts.


For technology, you can describe it as broken down, outdated, worn out, deprecated (software only), dated, or dead / dying.

What do you expect? I have used them for two years; they are dying on me.


outdated. (Headphone speakers have advanced rapidly in the last few years).


I've seen media reports which talk about out-of-date technology, so old it's dysfunctional, describing it using expressions like dinosaur tech.

More generally, in the UK there is an expression, old hat, used of anything considered outmoded, in the sense of being perceived as having antidiluvian or prehistoric origins. And applied not just to machinery but anything, even figures of speech.

A very British phrase is the term Heath Robinson, for use in describing an invention that is a bit ramshackle due to its antique origins. This was the name of an inventor (the term scientist is not really appropriate), who was a popular tv personality in the UK in the 1950s, who cobbled together machinery which worked after a fashion. Still used of any equipment that looks to have an element of DIY about it.

Britain also uses, or used until recently, the term steam driven for any technology which was so old as to be rumoured to have come out of the Ark (Biblical references still being in use among the older generation).

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