Garbage in, garbage out

  • Garbage in garbage out is an idiom that became popular in the twentieth century. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom garbage in garbage out, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    Garbage in, garbage out means faulty input yields faulty results. Garbage in, garbage out originally referred to computer input and output; if one wrote a faulty program one would not get the results one sought. However, the expression garbage in, garbage out has come to also mean if one starts with a faulty premise, one’s results will not be viable; if one starts with shoddy materials, one’s product will not be of high quality. The expression garbage in, garbage out was coined by an IBM computer programmer and instructor, George Fuechsel, in the 1960s to describe the fact that a computer processes what it is tasked to process, no more and no less. Garbage in, garbage out is sometimes abbreviated as GIGO, especially in computer circles.



    The difference may boil down to one of the simplest rules of computer programming: garbage in, garbage out. (Forbes)

    When we fail to give public offices to individuals with the right quality and capacity, we end up with a GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). (Vanguard News)

    Third, blaming the machine ignores the well-established principle of GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. (The Mandarin)

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