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I came across the phrase ‘jelling on the fly’ in today’s New York Times’ article titled, ‘The Knicks are racing to blend talent into a team.’

As I don’t understand the meaning of ‘jell on the fly,’ I checked several online dictionaries and found only one definition for ‘on the fly’ at whatis.techtarget.com that reads:

In relation to computer technology, "on the fly" describes activities that develop or occur dynamically rather than as the result of something that is statically predefined.

I don’t think this definition applies to my case.

Can somebody teach me the exact meaning of going through ‘jelling on the fly’? The original text containing the phrase reads:

Despite an abundance of talent, the reconfigured Knicks will have to get through another week of jelling on the fly, especially on defense. But D’Antoni had already offered a reality check: He said he did not expect the Knicks to be cohesive until the N.B.A. playoffs begin next month. “It just takes a while,” he said.

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Never knew this was spelt jell in American English! Always been gel to me! In fact, I was going to scream at the egregiousness of this typo until I checked the dictionary! –  Jimi Oke Mar 7 '11 at 2:08

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

"jelling..." refers to the process of the Knicks creating a cohesive team, necessitated by a great deal of recent player turnover. This is a phrase used relatively often in sports journalism. If a team has 'jelled', they have come together and play well as a team, rather than a collection of individuals.

"... on the fly" refers to the fact that this process must take place quickly during the most important part of the season, rather than during the off-season. The only way for them to 'jell' is to play games. However, these games matter in the standings, which means the process must take place quickly.

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+1 but I'd clarify that on the fly doesn't necessarily mean that it takes place quickly (although obviously they'd want it to), just, as you noted, that it must happen "live" during games that matter rather than beforehand as you'd prefer. –  Dusty Mar 7 '11 at 3:10
    
@dusty excellent point. I was not as clear as I could have been. –  RD1 Mar 7 '11 at 13:41
    
I found another example of the use of ‘on the fly’ in Time magazine ( thepage.time.com/2011/03/07/…). It reads: As President Obama formulates policy -- on the fly when he must, and in thoughtful consideration when he can ... ‘On the fly’ here seems to mean ‘in immediate need’ to me. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 7 '11 at 22:34
    
@yoichi in this case, the closest equivalent is probably "immediately, without prior planning". The situation in Libya escalated quickly, and President Obama may have to make major foreign policy statements or commitments, without the benefit of a period of careful preparation. This period would be similar to the off-season from the basketball example. In both situations, the time of careful preparation is missing, and now action has to be taken during a critical time instead. –  RD1 Mar 7 '11 at 23:14
    
RD01. Reading your parsing, 'on the fly' reminds me Japanese counterpart (maybe Robusto-san knows) 火急に-meaning in an emergency in face of a sudden fire. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 8 '11 at 0:15

"On the fly", in this case, refers to something that must be done as part of their "live" process rather than part of a "practice" process; they can't stop and take a week or two off in order to get their team to "jell", they have to come together while playing games that matter.

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