Deconstructing “fail”

July 15, 2009


Textbook fail

Textbook fail


verb 1 be unsuccessful in an undertaking. 2 be unable to meet the standards set by (a test). 3 judge (a candidate in an examination or test) not to have passed. 4 neglect to do. 5 disappoint expectations: chaos has failed to materialize. 6 stop working properly. 7 become weaker or less good. 8 go out of business. 9 desert or let down.

We’ve all done it, and we’ve all seen it. I’m not talking about failure, I’m talking about fail. Perhaps you might call it a condition, or a state of being, or maybe you’ll just call it as you see it: “FAIL!” An outgrowth of gamer culture, where fail is an inevitable product of the learning process, fail has worked its way into the 21st century vocabulary.

For clarification, lets consult the urban dictionary.


1 an interjection used when one disapproves of something. 2. a verb meaning approximately the same thing as the slang form of “suck,” most probably derived from the world of internet gaming. 3 the glorious lack of success

Now the first and second definitions attempt to address the origin and usage of fail. The third definition, however, seems to sum up fail most successfully (or “win,” which is the opposite of “fail”). To truly achieve fail, the failure must be glorious. By “glorious,” I mean that you must achieve a statistically improbable level of failure. Where failure is falling short of success, fail is reaching the antithesis of success. This, indeed, is the fantastic irony of fail: it is actually an achievement. Consider a scenario in which you have run out of milk and need to replenish your supply:

Failure: Going to the grocery store with the intent to buy a gallon of milk, only to find that milk is sold out.

Failure: Going to the grocery store with the intent to buy a gallon of milk, only to have someone snag the last jug mere moments before you can get to the cooler.

Fail: Going to the grocery store to buy milk, and mistakenly purchasing a gallon of fabric softener.

Epic Fail: Going to the hardware store with the intent to buy a gallon of milk.

Of course, within this fail could also be specific sub-categories of fail.

Milk Fail: Purchasing an expired gallon of milk.

Navigation Fail: Repeatedly walking past the cooler of milk while searching for the dairy section.

Parenting Fail: Locking your keys and infant in the car while in the grocery store to buy milk.

Wardrobe Fail: While crouching to retrieve milk on the bottom shelf, you split your pants to reveal your lack of undergarments.

Bargain Fail:  Purchasing a gallon jug when half gallons are marked “Buy 1 Get 1 Free”

Diet Fail: Purchasing nonfat milk to comply with your vegan lifestyle.

Improbability Fail: Being struck by an arrow while retrieving milk from the cooler.

Win: Avoiding the grocery store altogether and stealing a fresh jug of milk from your next-door neighbor.

If fail appeals to you, I suggest paying a visit to the, which will quench your thirst for fail. If you wish to experience fail firsthand, check out the Fail Blog at

*fail images courtesty of


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