There is no such thing as a universal remedy. However, there are some remedies that do not apply to any problems at all, arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. This class of solutions is best exemplified by duct tape.

The prevalence of duct tape in contemporary society is symptomatic of an inability to tackle individual tasks with the appropriate tools. The familiar silver-gray adhesive is ubiquitous in the toolboxes of aspiring handypersons everywhere. It is so dear to these people that it is even used to repair other solutions: witness the countless broken screwdriver handles lovingly repaired with duct tape.

At best, duct tape provides a temporary stopgap before inevitable failure. It withers in water1, embrittles when exposed to the elements2, and weakens when under stress3. With each failure, it leaves behind its signature marking: the stubborn, semi-permanent white residue that does little to enhance the appearance of any surface it has graced.

Not only does duct tape not apply to any problems it was not intended to solve, it does not even solve the one problem that prompted its invention. Duct tape is inappropriate for taping ducts. In most cases, when ducts require taping, a material other than conventional duct tape is called for. At least the screwdriver, widely regarded as one of the most abused tools of our time4, is capable of driving screws.

Duct tape, like so many other panaceas, is a vitally inappropriate solution to situations in which its application is overwhelmingly extraneous.

  1. A leaky pipe wrapped in a band.
  2. A torn convertible ragtop covered with a strip.
  3. An overstuffed cardboard box sealed with ribbons.
  4. Readers may better recognize the screwdriver by brand names "Hole-Maker," "Part-Separator," and "Thing-Tapper;" all trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Pick a different trade.

Mark Mentovai
2002 November 5
2004 November 27