Ballsed up. Banjaxed. Blown up. Bollixed. Borked. Bricked. Broked. Buggered (up). Bunged. Busted. Busticated. Casters-up mode. Clapped out. Crapped out. Cocked up. DOA. Done in. Down. Frapped out. Fried. Fucked (up). Fubar. Garfed. Gone pear-shaped. Goobered. Gronked. Horked. Hosed. Kaput. Knackered. NFG. Off the rails. On the blink. On the fritz. Pooched. Roached. Screwed. Shagged. Shot. Snafu. Stuffed. Tits up. Toast. U/S. Wedged. Wonky. Zorched. Note once again the vitality of English, with contributions from engineering and military jargon interbreeding organically, and in one case cheerful borrowing from our German cousins. I’d prefer not to dwell on the logical inference that engineers regard any system that’s actually working as a temporary anomaly. [Update: This was published in August 2004, but just now I ran across a dusty, neglected email folder labeled “words for broken” with late suggestions. This fragment is now closed, further suggestions will be rudely ignored.]

Non-Engineers · My brother Rob Bray points out that it’s not just engineers:

In social work, the home of euphemism, cover-up, and disinformation for unpleasant realities (most of our broken are people, not things), we have “alternatively functional”, “disenabled”, “didn’t/doesn’t return”, “non-comprehensive”, “maximally challenged”, “unimplemented”, and my favourite, “long-term pending mode”.

Brian Moore writes:

When a trial or proceeding is broken lawyers don’t have a delay or a stoppage or a breakdown; they have a “continuance” That kind of verbal skill is probably why on average they make more than engineers.

Policy · I originally tried to keep the obscenities out, except by reference as in “fubar”, but realistically, “fucked up” or just “fucked” accounts for a high proportion of all verbal references to brokenness in engineering culture, so it’s just not OK to omit it.

Sam Ruby pointed me at, but most ofthe synomyms for “broken” in the sense of not working didn’t qualify (with the exception of “screwed”) because I wanted conversational slang.

The QA method is simple, I just paste submissions into Google and see what comes back. Most of them are quickly confirmed.

Acknowledgements · Lauren, who contributed, notes that pining for the fjords means “dead” not “broken”. Paul Hoffman, who contributed gronked, asserts that tits up and in fact much of the list does too. I disagree, and it’s my list. Now my inbox and IM windows are quivering in the flow of incoming breakage vocabulary: Norm Walsh sent “wedged” and “down”. Steven Dieringer sent “garfed” which I’d never heard of, but a glance at Google provides (just) enough supporting evidence, Robert Hahn the venerable “on the fritz”, Rafe Colburn the surprising “gone pear-shaped”, and Patrick Hall “horked”. Sam Ruby found “casters-up mode”. Mark Wright offered the British-flavoured “knackered”, “buggered” (I would argue that “buggered up” is a bit more common, but OK), “cocked up” and “ballsed up”, then noted that “blink” works in the same place as “fritz”, and failed to convince me that “shagged” qualified, although that may just be Austin Powers pollution. Mike Hostetler turned up “broked”, which is quite widespread although I hadn’t heard it once, Simon Fodden remembered “clapped out” and Toivo Lainevool gave us the obvious “fried”. More credits: Dan Armeneau for “busticated”, Solaris übergeek Brian Cantrill for “bricked”, Matthew Walker for a lengthy list including “blown up”, “bunged”, “crapped out”, and “stuffed”, and Glenn Vanderberg for “goobered” (note: also “goobered up”). I had rejected “U/S” (unserviceable, pronounced “you-ess”, but received ardent testimony also from Stephen Horobin and Scott McPhee; I gather this is military in flavor.

Day 2: Rob Bray for “NFG”, Mike Moran for “fucked”, and Yoz Grahame finally convinced me that “shagged” qualifies. Douglas Murray for “off the rails”. Drew McLellan suggested "bolloxed" but “bollixed” is a bit more common. Jim Menard for “zorched”. Paul Nijjar for “pooched” which, interestingly, seems very commonly applied to automotive bustedness.

I’d rejected “Banjaxed” (Irish slang from Jamie Lawrence), but Dervala herself browbeat me, so in it goes.

Rejections, With Thanks · “It’s all gone Pete Tong” (Cockney rhyming slang from Yoz Grahame). “Shonked” from Drew McLellan. “Munted” (recent NZ teen slang from Mark Hadfield). Mark Wright’s list included “naused up”, and Matthew Walker’s “cactus”, “had the gong”, “up the spout”, and “U/S” (pronounced youess from “unserviceable”). Newfoundland slang from Jeremy Porter: “The arse is gone right out of ’er”. Walter Underwood offered the excellent but hardly common “face down in a pool of bits”. Didier Barbas suggested “whacked”, but it has several other (more common) meanings.

Jason Briggs offered “poked”, but it seems not only obscure but exclusively Down Under; as well as “cream crackered” and “up the pictures”. Speaking of Down Under, Scot McPhee failed to convince me on “rooted” or “cactus”, but offered strong evidence that “buggered”, in this sense, is of Aussie origin.

Soph had “belly up” pop into her mind, which sounds reasonable, but I’ve not heard it and the evidence isn’t there.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
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August 18, 2004
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