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What does the phrase "made it up on the spot" mean?

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closed as general reference by MετάEd, tchrist, FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Jan 1 '13 at 20:26

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Before voting to close this as general reference, please read my comment underneath the answer by @coleopterist. While the answer is readily available, even a dictionary will list several interpretations of both halves of this conjoined idiom, making the exact meaning of it difficult to decipher through research alone. For example, it could be used if there was a spot on the carpet, so I moved my bed to cover the spot, and then I "made it [the bed] up on the spot." – J.R. Jan 1 '13 at 19:00
@J.R. interestingly, your defense of the question is also a nail in its coffin. Following your argumentation, rather than being closed as general reference, it should now be closed for ambiguity and lack of context. At any rate, some substance would be nice, Wladek. – RegDwigнt Jan 1 '13 at 20:25
@RegDwighт: You won't get an argument from me when it comes to asking for more context, substance, or relevance. I've beat that drum often enough. I just wanted to point out that the question is a bit more interesting than it might have appeared on the surface. – J.R. Jan 2 '13 at 0:55
up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you make something up on the spot, you simply haven't planned for it. For example, if you're giving a presentation and somebody asks you a difficult question that you haven't thought about, you may come up with a reasonable answer without prior thought, or make something up on the spot. In other words, you're improvising.

You may also hear the term "wing it," which is basically a synonym for "make it up on the spot."

  1. I didn't have an answer so I decided to improvise.
  2. I didn't have an answer so I decided to make one up on the spot.
  3. I didn't have an answer so I decided to wing it.
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nice, thank you for explanation – Wladek Jan 1 '13 at 17:14

Made it up:

make something up invent a story, lie, or plan:
she enjoyed making up tall tales

On the spot:

without any delay; immediately:
he offered me the job on the spot

So, "made it up on the spot" means something along the lines of inventing a story or a plan without any delay or immediately. The context might change the meaning somewhat with the other senses of either phrase possibly coming into play.

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While you are spot on, I think it's worth pointing out that this is not an easy combination of idioms to decipher. You can make up an answer, or you can make up lost hours, or you can make up with your spouse after an argument. You can even make up a bed in the morning. Moreover, on the spot has other meanings, too, such as, "We put him on the spot with that question" (meaning, in a pressure-packed situation), or, "We were on the spot when the accident happened" (meaning we were eyewitnesses). – J.R. Jan 1 '13 at 17:31
@J.R. Quite so. I have noted for this very reason that "context might change the meaning somewhat with the other senses of either phrase possibly coming into play". Please let me know if this is not clear enough. – coleopterist Jan 1 '13 at 17:57
I think your answer is clear; I'm just explaining why I think the O.P.'s question is a good example of one that is NOT general reference ~ even though the answer is "readily available." – J.R. Jan 1 '13 at 18:49

A speaker's "made . . . up on the spot" response to a question posed to him or her is called an impromptu response, as in "The speaker gave the questioner an impromptu answer." Hope this helps.

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