I'm curious what the association(s) are with the word 'makeshift"

5 Answers 5


I'm going to say that it depends on context.

John was lost in the woods overnight, but survived by constructing a makeshift shelter from pine branches.

Is very positive. However,

My auto mechanic did not have the right parts, so he tried to patch things with a makeshift repair. It failed and my car was stranded on the freeway for an hour.

Is pretty negative.

  • 2
    I think the question serves to illustrate that we can become far too preoccupied with notions of 'positive and negative'. We are, after all dealing with English, not mathematics. Is a cup and saucer positive or negative? The whole point of language and word choice is that they offer shades of meaning.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 23:25

It is rare for something makeshift—that is, improvised using the materials and tools at hand—to equal in quality something carefully planned and built without special limitations or restrictions. To the extent that you compare a makeshift thing to an intended-to-be-permanent thing, the makeshift will be at a disadvantage.

But if instead you focus on the ingenuity of producing something workable out of meager supplies, using limited tools, the makeshift looks quite admirable.

To my ear, while makeshift (it will do the job it was designed to do, but it probably won't last for an extended period of time) sounds a little less positive than improvised (it was designed off the cuff, and yet it may last indefinitely), it sounds significantly more positive than stopgap (it will function for a short time, but you'd better replace it as soon as you can).


Makeshift by definition means the ability to fix something or make something, but it is not a permanent solution. It is more like a patch.

In my opinion I do not see makeshift as a positive or a negative word. Context dependent.

If you have a broken leg and you make a makeshift crutch, that is a pretty good thing.

If you are building a 6 axis CNC system and you use makeshift motors, this inevitably will end up being a bad thing.

Part of the word from makeshift, make (verb) means to build, construct etc.

Within the computer industry, due to time constraints and customers being a complete pain. We would normally make makeshift systems to temporarily get the system(s) online. By all means, they were not a permanent fix.

  • @Bill - Makeshift implies that you do not have all the appropriate resources (time/equipment) to have a perfect solution. If you were in the woods and you broke your leg, you would use a trunk from a tree to build some kind of crutch or support system. If you had a broken leg and you had the opportunity to go to the hospital, by all means, you should go to the hospital. Therefore in conclusion, makeshift means a temporary fix.
    – Arthor
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 18:19

I would say in most cases that the word makeshift implies both negative and positive.

On the positive side is the person or team that provided the makeshift solution. They did a great job with what they had and something is better than nothing.

On the negative side makeshift implies temporary and not perfect. The negativity focuses more on the situation and the fact that the perfect solution wasn't provided.

So you want to create a makeshift solution, not be a makeshift solution.


I am going to disagree with cobaltduck and Arthor. The term very much carries a pejorative connotation. "Makeshift" describes an item or solution that is an inferior substitute for the actual thing.

Take the case of the makeshift crutch referenced above. If you had a broken leg and could choose between a makeshift crutch and the actual medical device, which would you choose? The hiker lost in the woods creates a makeshift shelter because a properly constructed long term shelter is not available or too time-consuming to build.

  • 1
    -1 While I agree that a makeshift item is "an inferior substitute for the actual thing", it is certainly better than nothing. As you say, if the choice is between a makeshift item and the proper thing, you choose the latter. But if the choice is between a makeshift item and nothing, then it is positive. In isolation makeshift is neither negative nor positive - it depends on the alternative available at the time.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 18:50
  • @TrevorD: on your argument, makeshift is 'worse than the real thing, but better than nothing'. That's pretty close to how I use the word, but I would certainly call it pejorative. Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 21:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.