The recent publication of Corinne Purtill’s “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” on QZ.com, underscores the need for nuance in thinking, action, and in writing. Purtill’s essay does a nice job of distilling the differences, nuances and attendant dangers.
The three main contributors to a clusterfuck are “illusion, impatience and incompetence,” according to Purtill, and I can’t disagree. A clusterfuck is distinguished from a Snafu, for instance, in that a Snafu “refers to the functionally messy state” of many bureaucracies; whereas a clusterfuck is the result of poorly taken, badly executed decisions.
“Shitshow” can be distinguished from Clusterfuck in that the shitshow is the result of a clusterfuck, and therefore describes an end state—and this is important—is not, like Snafu, intransitive. A resultant shitshow describes a moment in time, whereas Snafu continues through time. Thus, the shitshow, resulting from a clusterfuck, may contribute to an overarching bureaucratic Snafu malaise, or it may lead to FUBAR (f’d up beyond all repair).
Ms. Purtill has done a great service to writers, thinkers and planners.
A British friend, and devotee of The Thick of It on BBC, proposes “omnishambles” as a further adjective of Buro-Political disapprobation. It’s so vivid that I feel compelled to locate it along the spectrum.
Initially, I was inclined to regard omnishambles as a synonym or cognate of shitshow, an end state; but its first appearance in 2009, as Malcolm Tucker speaks to a disastrous MP candidate (below) leads me to believe it should have its own spot on the spectrum:
“Not only have you got a fucking bent husband and a fucking daughter that gets taken to school in a fucking sedan chair, you’re also fucking mental. Jesus Christ, see you, you are a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.”
— Malcolm Tucker to Nicola Murray, “Series 3, Episode 1”, The Thick of It.
This coinage conjures images of a single, out-of-control Rube Goldberg machine indiscriminately slaughtering (hence the “shambles”) innocents, rather than a bureaucratic clusterfuck. It’s therefore outside of time, carrying its threat at a vector
To sum up:
I’m open to debate and discussion, though perhaps not with Malcolm Tucker…
James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network. The third and final book in the series, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.
Link to REVIEWS