Garbage In, Garbage Out—Impact on Productivity

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Garbage in, garbage out means the quality of input determines the quality of output. This idiom is used to imply that incorrect or nonsense input will give you nonsense output or results.

Idiomatic expressions such as garbage in, garbage out are figurative phrases that convey meaning beyond their literal interpretation. They’re essential to the English language because they help us create mental images everyone can relate to.

But idioms are only as effective as their use, so it’s important to understand what they mean before you start throwing them around. That’s why I cover all the details you need about this phrase’s meaning, origin, variations, and more. I even share a few examples of it in use.

Garbage In Garbage Out—Impact on Productivity

What Does the Idiom Garbage In, Garbage Out Mean?

The idiom garbage in, garbage out means that the output’s quality reflects the input’s quality.

Collins Dictionary explains that the idiom is “said to mean that if you produce something using poor quality materials, the thing you produce will also be of poor quality.”

It’s a no-brainer when you think about it, and it’s a common phrase often abbreviated as GIGO. It expresses a fundamental truth in computing and information processing: the quality of output is determined by the quality of the input. If you input incorrect or poor-quality data (garbage), you’ll get poor-quality or meaningless results (garbage).

I immediately think of the publishing industry. As an author for over fifteen years now, I’ve seen books and trends come and go. And, with the rise of indie publishing, we’ve seen a flood of poorly made books saturate the market. The good thing is that they don’t last long, and those authors usually disappear pretty quickly.

Indie publishing grants us the ability to publish on our own terms, but readers are still going to expect a quality product. If you put garbage in, your sales will also be garbage.

You can use this phrase in almost any situation, but it’s mostly used in computer science, business analytics, and different fields where data accuracy is paramount. It serves as a reminder that decision-making and outcomes are heavily reliant on the initial information or data provided.

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of garbage in, garbage out is straightforward: if you put garbage into a system, you’ll get garbage out of it. Bada bing, bada boom.

But we use it figuratively to describe scenarios where flawed logic, erroneous data, or poor-quality information/materials lead to inaccurate or undesirable outcomes.

Variations of the Idiom

Garbage in, garbage out is the most commonly used phrase, but you might see some variations like these:

  • Input determines output
  • Quality in, quality out
  • Rubbish in, rubbish out

How Is Garbage In, Garbage Out Commonly Used in Context?

This phrase is mostly used to stress the importance of accuracy and quality in data entry and processing. It’s commonly found in discussions around computing, data analytics, and business strategy, but there are other instances where it fits perfectly.

In the sections below, we’ll explore the different ways this idiom is utilized, offer tips for its effective usage, and provide real-life examples illustrating its significance in everyday language.

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Garbage In, Garbage Out?

  • Computing and technology: When emphasizing the importance of accurate coding or data entry. “The marketing team quickly learned the principle of garbage in, garbage out; when they used poor-quality data for their campaign analysis, the results were misleading and unhelpful.”
  • In decision-making: To highlight the need for accurate information before making crucial decisions. “Take your time with that project. Our motto around here is to avoid garbage in, garbage out.”
  • In education: Teachers might use it to stress the importance of proper research and data gathering for projects or reports. “As a teacher, Marie knows that garbage in, garbage out applies to any grade. If you teach them garbage, expect garbage to come out during tests and assignments.”

What Are Some Tips for Using Garbage In, Garbage Out Effectively?

  • Context is key: Use this idiom in situations where the focus is on data quality or accuracy.
  • Educational tactic: It can be a teaching tool to emphasize the importance of proper data or information input.
  • Avoid confusion: Explain the idiom when used in a non-technical setting to ensure understanding.

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Garbage In, Garbage Out?

This idiom is prevalent in business books, IT tutorials, data science courses, and movies or shows dealing with technology or data-driven plots.

On the web, you might find the phrase used across various news outlets, like the ones included in these quotes:

“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)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Garbage In, Garbage Out?

garbage in garbage out Ngram
Garbage in garbage out usage trend.

The expression garbage in, garbage out originated in the early days of computer programming and data processing back in the 1950s. But it 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.

It emerged as a way to explain to non-technical people why computers, despite their advanced capabilities, could produce erroneous results if fed incorrect data.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Originally a computer programming term, it has evolved to apply to many fields, emphasizing the universal truth that the input quality affects the output quality.

What Are Some Related Terms to Garbage In, Garbage Out?

Switch things up but still retain the original message behind garbage in, garbage out with these alternatives.

Garbage In Garbage Out—Impact on Productivity 1


  • Input equals output
  • As you sow, so shall you reap
  • What you put in is what you get out
  • You get what you give


  • Irrelevant input, relevant output
  • Quality independent of input

Garbage In, Garbage Out: Test Your Knowledge!

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What Have We Learned about Garbage In, Garbage Out?

Garbage in, garbage out is a powerful idiom in the tech world that transcends its computing origins to offer a critical lesson in accuracy and quality in various aspects of life. The phrase emphasizes the idea that the quality of output is determined by the quality of input. From data processing to decision-making, this phrase holds true.

I’ve broken down and explored its origins, meanings, and how it’s used today to emphasize the importance of quality input for quality output. I hope my quick guide helped you better understand how to work this phrase into conversations or writing.

If you feel like learning about more fun idiomatic expressions like this one, I cover hundreds on our site, so go check them out!