The Correct Word(s) Makes all the Difference

The recent publication of Corinne Purtill’s “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” on, 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.

blog.SnafuThe 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.Thick-of-ItDVD

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:

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 16.01.15





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.


Find them through  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.


If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
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One thought on “The Correct Word(s) Makes all the Difference

  1. Pingback: Oldthinkers Unbellyfeel Ingsoc | Chosen Words - James McCrone

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