Committee decision-making has been criticized for producing ugly, generic results. “A camel is a horse designed/planned by a committee” is a phrase of unknown authorship that became popular by 1956. The phrase also exists without the “horse,” such as: “The camel is an animal that looks as if it had been put together by a committee.”
“Giraffe” and even “helicopter” have replaced “camel” in some phrase versions of the committee design. The phrase has applied to business, political and military committees.
A similar phrase became popular in the 1960s—“An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications.”
Wiktionary: a camel is a horse designed by a committee
. a camel is a horse designed by committee
. a camel is a horse made by a committee
. a camel is a horse made by committee
a camel is a horse designed by a committee
An expression critical of committees—or by analogy, group decision-making—by emphasizing the ineffectiveness of incorporating too many conflicting opinions into a single project. In this figure of speech, the distinguishing features of a camel, such as its humps and poor temperament, are taken to be the deformities that resulted from its poor design.
1952, Proceedings Regular Meeting, Ohio Valley Transportation Advisory Board, Pacific Northwest Advisory Board, pg. 24:
A camel is a horse designed by a committee, so we hope that this committee will—and I think it will—function appropriately.
1975, The Professional Geographer: The Journal of the Association of American Geographers, v.27 1975, pg. 132:
If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, what is a materials policy statement prepared by seven study teams?
1976, Popular Science, v.209 1976 Jul-Dec:
Whoever concluded that a camel is a horse designed by a committee could have similar thoughts about taxicabs.
2002,The West Wing, episode Night Five, original airdate February 6th, 2002:
“This is a presidential address, Andrea, not a camel (...) A camel! A horse built by committee!” (Toby Ziegler)
2004, Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2005, Roger Ebert, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0740747428, pg. 388:
To quote another ancient proverb, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Life or Something Like It is the movie designed by the camel.
Wikipedia: Design by committee
Design by committee is a term referring to a style of design and its resultant output when a group of entities comes together to produce something (often the design of technological systems or standards), particularly in the presence of poor and incompetent leadership. The defining characteristics of “design by committee” are needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.
The term is especially common in technical parlance, and it legitimizes the need and general acceptance of a unique systems architect. Often, when software is designed by a committee, the original motivation, specifications and technical criteria take a backseat and poor choices may be made merely to appease the egos of several individual committee members. Such products and standards end up doing too many things or having parts that fit together poorly (because the entities who produced those parts were unaware of each other’s requirements for a good fit).
The term is also common in automotive parlance for poorly designed or unpopular cars.
One maxim is that a camel is a horse designed by committee; this has been attributed to Vogue magazine, July 1958, to Sir Alec Issigonis and also to University of Wisconsin philosophy professor Lester Hunt.
Railway Locomotives and Cars
v. 130 - 1956
A Texan who saw a giraffe for the first time, looked at it for a while and said, “That was designed by a committee.”
9 July 1956, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, pg. 8, col. 6:
The camel is an animal that looks like he had been put together by a committee.—Daily Olympian.
21 July 1956, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pt. 1, pg. 1:
It has been said that a camel is an animal that looks like it was put together by a committee.
Google News Archive
22 January 1957, Beaver Valley Times (Beaver, PA), pg. 3, col. 8:
Who was it said a camel is an animal that looks like it was put together by a committee?
Google News Archive
1 August 1957, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, Green Sheet, pg. 1 (above mast):
The Camel Is an Animal That Looks as if It Had Been Put Together by a Committee
December 09, 1957
Events & Discoveries
HORSE JOKE NO. 1
Child: Daddy, what is a camel?
Father: What is a what?
Child: What is a camel?
Father: A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.
27 April 1958, New York (NY) Times, “The Trouble With ‘Togetherness’; Not only is it a dubious word, but as a concept it threatens both our private lives and our public affairs, says an advocate of occasional separateness” by Charles Frankel, magazine, pg. SM26:
A camel, it has been said, is a horse designed by a committee.
7 December 1958, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pt. 8, pg. F6:
Someone said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. How apt!
Google News Archive
6 March 1959, Deseret News (Salt Lake City, NH), “Senators Do Undergo Terrible Privations” by Frank Eleazer, pg. 4A, col. 4:
Cotton (Senator Norris Cotton, R-NH—ed.) says tho building is poorly planned and reminds him of a schoolboy’s definition of a camel— a sort of a horse, put together by a committee.
31 May 1959, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “You Can Say That Again!”, This Week magazine, pg. I14:
Zsa Zsa Gabor: Whenever I see a camel, I remember what a Senator in Washington once told me: A camel is a horse put together by a committee.
Google News Archive
23 November 1959, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, “Roving Reporter” by Hal Boyle, pg. 8, col. 1:
But the funniest remark ever made about the helicopter was delivered by an anonymous genius who observed, “it looks like something designed by a committee.”
6 December 1966, Carroll (IA) Daily Times Herald, “Giraffe: Put Together by Committee?” by Hal Boyle, pg. 9, col. 1:
The giraffe, as well as the helicopter, looks like something designed by a committee.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (1) Comments • Monday, January 04, 2010 • Permalink
Very interesting comment on the helicopter.