I need a replacement word for the word clusterf#$k
April 17, 2008 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I need a replacement word for the word clusterf#$k.

From Wikipedia:
"Cluster Fuck (also Clusterfuck, Charlie-Foxtrot) - The term originated from situations where groups of United States Marines were too large or disorganized to be able to successfully defend themselves from enemy fire, but in modern meaning it has evolved to mean any set of circumstances in which massive disorganization has the potential to cause serious damage, or a disastrous situation that results from the cumulative errors of several people or groups."

Occasionally I need to use the word clusterfuck, or one that means the same thing. Sometimes that occasion includes people that don't want to hear the word fuck. And I don't necessarily want to use the word fuck any more than I already do. But I can't find a replacement I'm happy with.

Disaster is close but not right.
Same for catastrophe and calamity.
Confusion and disorganization are appropriate words that help to describe a clusterfuck, but themselves aren't.

Clusterfuck is different in a subtle way. It implies a group of monkey wrenches have been thrown into the situation by a bunch of knuckleheads.

Looking up the word mess, which is a simple, less powerful version of clusterfuck, on thesaurus.com yields a bunch of stuff that doesn't quite fit.

I friend of mine suggested the following word:

All decent but not right. And not even real words in most cases.

There has to be a 'real', regular, formal word that means the same thing, no? Something I'm simply not thinking of.

Metafilter can't possibly let me down.
posted by gummo to Writing & Language (63 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
posted by mosk at 4:13 PM on April 17, 2008

Best answer: debacle? It's one of my fav words.
posted by AlisonM at 4:16 PM on April 17, 2008

quagmire? The online definition says "a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position; a predicament", but my understanding of it is more along the lines of what you said -- that it implies someone has caused the problem by doing something stupid.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:16 PM on April 17, 2008

I see you've got SNAFU already. SNAFU allegedly has a military provenance, like the c-word.

"Comedy of errors" may fulfill some of your criteria. It depends on context though. It is a phrase, however, not a word. Still, I offer it in the spirit of the question.
posted by Mister_A at 4:17 PM on April 17, 2008

Best answer: Imbroglio.
posted by frobozz at 4:17 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Debacle is the closest I've heard. I can't think of an example where clusterfuck fits and debacle doesn't.

I think that answer clocked in at about 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Metafilter is the greatest.
posted by gummo at 4:21 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually use fustercluck. But people also expect profanity to spew from my mouth in all situations, so...
posted by SpecialK at 4:23 PM on April 17, 2008

I was going to suggest "fustercluck" (thank you Gossip Girl), but I think that fails the 'real' qualifier.

I really like "morass" but I think "fiasco" and "debacle" are much closer to your intended meaning. There's also "shambles" or its adjectival form "shambolic."
posted by SoftRain at 4:24 PM on April 17, 2008

Response by poster: Imbroglio is excellent as well. And I can imagine this conversation, which pleases me.

This has turned into quite the imbroglio.

Whats imbroglio mean?

Oh, you know. Clusterfuck.
posted by gummo at 4:24 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by jpdoane at 4:27 PM on April 17, 2008

posted by Foam Pants at 4:27 PM on April 17, 2008

It's a shame to have to eliminate clusterfuck from your vocabulary. For anyone wondering, words like that truly are part of the everyday military vernacular. Fubar and snafu are out of use and thrown around jokingly.

You can simply say "cluster" and leave a fuck-shaped pause after it, and possibly get the same message across. Then again, in a group of civilians, perhaps not.

There aren't many other words that convey both the essential cluster and fuck aspects.

posted by crunch buttsteak at 4:29 PM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Group fail.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 4:32 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Shower (obscure, though).
Weeaboo (PBF only, really).
posted by Dipsomaniac at 4:44 PM on April 17, 2008

At my workplace we say "dysfunctional".
posted by wafaa at 4:53 PM on April 17, 2008

Soup sandwich
posted by prjo at 4:56 PM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

I like Fubar donated by jpdoane as that says it all and usually gets a laugh when you explain what it is short for. In the spirit of the original phrase though I would suggest goatfuck, which was always widely used in our unit.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 4:56 PM on April 17, 2008


Hames. (You made a feckin' hames of that silage pit, Seamus)

Car crash.

Pig's ear. (You made a pig's ear of that launch routine, Jimmy)

Dog's dinner.
posted by ReiToei at 4:58 PM on April 17, 2008

Train wreck
posted by winston at 5:03 PM on April 17, 2008


Come on. She's not that bad. Not that good... But that's harsh.

Actually, that's about as close as synonyms get. Good work frobozz. I was just going to suggest the too many chefs metaphor too. It's pretty cliche though.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:07 PM on April 17, 2008

Try the Australianism 'rooted' to describe clusterfucked situations or objects. It covers an almost infinite range of rootedness. Broken household appliance? It's rooted. That excel spreadsheet? Rooted. Public transport system in your major city? Rooted. War in Iraq? Rooted.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:07 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can upgrade it to a "Mongolian clusterfuck."

Or downgrade it to just "cluster." People will get it.

Sometimes I will just say, "this damn thing is underwater" or "up a creek."

NOT ANTIMONGOLIANIST. Even though they keep tearing down my wall. Stupid Mongolians.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:30 PM on April 17, 2008

Wow, I had no idea what debacle actually meant until just now.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:31 PM on April 17, 2008

I use the term cluster event, and everybody knows what I mean. For very special events it's a Mongolian Cluster Event.
posted by theora55 at 5:32 PM on April 17, 2008

or, what Cool Papa Bell said.

My Irish friend says things have "gone "pearpear-shaped" as in a round thing that slumped, I think. If you're USian, might not translate.
posted by theora55 at 5:39 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Soup Sandwich" was one of my favorites when I was in.

It's a little less specific than "Clusterfuck", as it more applicable to anything that is a mess, regardless of what caused it.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:40 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I often say that things have gone tits up.
posted by ob at 5:42 PM on April 17, 2008

I sometimes use rat king because once people know what they are, it usually describes the situation perfectly.
posted by jessamyn at 5:44 PM on April 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Sometimes people just say "charlie foxtrot." Cute, old-fashioned-sounding; yet you might have to use "fuck" when explaining yourself, I guess.
posted by theredpen at 5:50 PM on April 17, 2008

I usually say shit show. Its neither real nor a particularly good replacement for clusterfuck profanity-wise, but just to add to the list.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:05 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

"an affront to Her Majesty the Queen of England!"
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 6:17 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

An old co-worker of mine who came from Corel was fond of a Japanese expression that translated to "It's a slaughterhouse in here". Wish I could tell you what the original was but I use the english version when I need to, which is more often than I'd like.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:18 PM on April 17, 2008

This doesn't help with the profanity issue, but the best expression I've heard for a situation that foundered due to too many egos smacking together was a "dick dance."
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:24 PM on April 17, 2008

posted by SPrintF at 6:25 PM on April 17, 2008

We always refer to these situations as musical monkey firedrills.
posted by Biblio at 6:25 PM on April 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Goat rodeo."
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:13 PM on April 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

Perhaps the lesson here is that when a true clusterfuck is occurring, the profanity in referring to it as such is appropriate? And conversely, if the profanity matters, it's not really a clusterfuck. Merely an idiot parade.
posted by gjc at 7:18 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I use "rat screw." I don't know if it's necessary correct, but it conveys the idea pretty clearly.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:28 PM on April 17, 2008

Nth clusterfuck as military preferred lingo. Nobody says snafu or fubar.
Less extreme situations might be called a goat rodeo or my favorite, a clown show.

When observing such a situation, one person might just start humming the clown song while others add zany sound effects. I should put a performance on YouTube. It's getting quite impressive, with multi-part humming.
posted by ctmf at 7:28 PM on April 17, 2008

posted by The Shiny Thing at 7:29 PM on April 17, 2008

If we're bringing in other languages... I've always been fond of "balagan", which is Hebrew by way of Russia.
posted by judith at 7:47 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

prefer "goat screw" to "goat rodeo". in fact i used buffer_goatscrew as a signal in a chip once to indicate something really bad happened, and one of the other engineers thought i meant "got screwed." ...and then i had to explain it to him :)
posted by joeblough at 7:48 PM on April 17, 2008

I enjoy the term "circle jerk" myself.
posted by missjenny at 8:00 PM on April 17, 2008

"This has become quite the Dubya."
posted by Flunkie at 8:03 PM on April 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

Nuts, Fubar has already been suggested, that would be my offering. How about Disorganized Fornication Gathering? No that won't work. Here you go:

TMC - Too many cooks as in Too many cooks spoil the soup. Examples:

This is turning into a TMC situation

That project is absolutely TMC

What a TMC clusterfuck!
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:07 PM on April 17, 2008

monkeys making love to a football
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 PM on April 17, 2008

I disagree with "circle jerk" -- that seems like a totally different type of situation. Though a clusterfuck could be blamed on a circle jerk. That seems quite common in my office.
posted by amanda at 9:08 PM on April 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Funny, we have a cluster of servers at work that serve our websites, and we call something breaking on the cluster a "Cluster Event"...
posted by SpecialK at 9:17 PM on April 17, 2008

Depends on the situation being described and context, but I would also suggest 'brouhaha' or 'kerfuffle'. Not entirely the same, but 'clusterfuck' could be used to describe the situations they express, and it could go both ways.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:18 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, I had no idea what debacle actually meant until just now.

Imagine learning, as I did only recently, the correct way to pronounce it. (hint: does not rhyme with 'spectacle.')
posted by skyper at 10:35 PM on April 17, 2008

Around my house, where there are plenty of "little ears", it's not uncommon for me and Mrs. Eep to simply use the initials.

"It was a total see-eff."
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:02 PM on April 17, 2008

Where I used to work we didn't even say 'clusterfuck', when things were going crazy it was simply 'a cluster'.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 11:55 PM on April 17, 2008

I've moved on from clusterfuck to "abomination."
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:06 AM on April 18, 2008

I'm actually going to say that Charlie-Foxtrot is the one to use; it's impossible to be offended by it.
posted by davejay at 12:54 AM on April 18, 2008

[insert remote ethnicity] fire drill

dog's breakfast



But I agree with davejay. On the rare occasions we can't use your original term, we go with charlie-foxtrot or charlie-fox.
posted by Phred182 at 1:34 AM on April 18, 2008

'Goat Rodeo' and 'Goat Screw' are good, but for me it's always been 'Goat Rope,' as in, "Trying to get that event organized was a complete goat rope." It was a not-unheard-of expression in Oklahoma when I was in high school.

Then, naturally, the parties responsible for the debacle are 'Goat-ropers.'
posted by Shohn at 5:44 AM on April 18, 2008

"Herding cats" is a fave of mine.
posted by 8dot3 at 6:10 AM on April 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've used "cluster" on occasions when the full term might be a bit harsh. Similar to NotMyselfRightNow and ctfm, I like "goat rope". My Navy brother used that a few times.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:14 AM on April 18, 2008

My friend uses "clustermess" in more formal situations
posted by royalchinook at 6:29 AM on April 18, 2008

I agree with the term 'Goat Rope'. I was first introduced to it by some coworkers in the Government.
posted by LightMayo at 9:23 AM on April 18, 2008

I quite like "gong show".
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:33 PM on April 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

My roomate in college introduced me to the "Monkeys Humping a Football" line. Presents a great visual. Mildly entertaining to watch in the short term, but in the end, not a damn thing gets accomplished.
It got to the point that we'd rate events in terms of numbers of monkeys and footballs. The greater the ratio of monkeys to footballs the more likely someone was going to get it from behind in the end.
posted by Morydd at 9:34 AM on April 19, 2008

Shit show fits the bill. You know, except for the profanity part. Maybe an alternative for when your language can run un-FCCed
posted by clearly at 11:20 PM on April 22, 2008

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