I'm looking for a word or phrase that implies improvisation in a negative context. "Jury rigging" comes to mind, but I'm in need of a term that can't be mistaken as anything but pejorative.

The context would be someone remarking at improvisation in annoyance or contempt.

  • you intend improvize as in "improve (from what's available)" or "impromptu/unplanned" ? – JoseK Apr 15 '11 at 6:44
  • @JoseK - Impromptu/unplanned. – Tim Post Apr 15 '11 at 8:10
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    Surely "jury rigging" is trying to influence the outcome of a trial by underhanded means, whereas "jerry rigging" is producing something in a makeshift fashion? – AdamV Apr 15 '11 at 14:14
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    Surely not. The "jury" in "jury rigging" refers to a type of mast, not the sort that adjudicates a trial. "Jerry-rigging" is just a bastardization of "jury rigging" by people who don't understand the distinction. – Tim Keating Apr 15 '11 at 17:00
  • I always knew "Jury" was the proper word, but never understood why it was the proper word. Thank you for that very useful bit of information! – Tim Post Apr 18 '11 at 0:26

14 Answers 14


Both "contrive" and "slapdash" are given by Thesaurus.com as related words with negative connotations. Also, "to hatch" and "to throw together". I would also add "to hack", though the meaning of the word has changed in the digital context.

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    I came here to offer up 'throw together' but it seems I was beaten to the post. – Karl Apr 15 '11 at 7:21
  • Yeah "throw together" is probably the best answer to this question. Many of the other answers are the wrong part of speech; the question asked for a verb. – jhocking Apr 15 '11 at 14:52

I'll add:



Willy nilly

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    I was coming to put Kludge as an answer but you beat me to it. +1 – Kevin Apr 15 '11 at 14:10
  • Ah, but I've been told by a Dutchman that "kluge" (no D) is from a Dutch word for "deviously clever". – Hot Licks Nov 20 '16 at 14:19


To put together clumsily; bungle: cobbled a plan together at the last minute.

American Heritage Dictionary

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Try these:

  • Winging it
  • Flying by the tail
  • Recklessness
  • On a whim
  • Drawing numbers
  • Throw together (suggested by Karl)
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  • Wrecklessness is good. It's recklessness that should be avoided. – Peter Taylor Apr 15 '11 at 12:30
  • Modified spelling. :) – Neil Apr 15 '11 at 12:36
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    Flying by the seat of one's pants. – Chris Cudmore Apr 15 '11 at 14:21

"Hack job"

or depending on context "impetuous" with the definition

acting or done quickly and without thought or care

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  • Or you could simply say "hack" – jhocking Apr 15 '11 at 14:50

The most common phrase I hear for this is "pulling something out of your ass." There are variations and the phrase is pretty flexible:

Did you just pull that out of your ass?

Stopping pulling things out of your ass.

Tom likes to pull things out of his ass.

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    Technically, it's "Rectally generated" – Chris Cudmore Apr 15 '11 at 14:11
  • If cursing is acceptable in this answer then this is probably the best one, in that it's the most negative. – jhocking Apr 15 '11 at 14:55
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    Although, I don't think this is exactly what the question is used for. I tend to think of "pulling something out of my ass" in terms of making up facts or statistics to support a weak argument, or to generate sample data to illustrate an example. – Chris Cudmore Apr 16 '11 at 15:45

There is a common management style of improvisation, often in response to continual crisis. I call it management by the seat of your trousers.

Apparently this is from early aviation parlance, where pilots relied on their instinct and judgement rather than their (possibly unreliable) instruments.

Aviation instrumentation has of course improved since the early days, and now it is extremely rare for pilots to improvise rather than rely on their dials and gauges. Today it would be mavericks and the desperate who improvise this way, so the phrase takes on a pejorative flavour.

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  • I know this as "flying by the seat of your pants." Close enough that I will vote for this. It is exactly what was asked for. The others don't have the clear pejorative connotation that this one does. – aparente001 Nov 24 '16 at 23:40

Macgyver - From the TV show by the same name, where the hero frequently built sophisticated technology out of bubble gum and dental floss.

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    Y'know I've actually heard this used as a verb before, which is pretty funny: "Don't worry, I'll macguyver a solution to this problem." I don't think it's negative though. – jhocking Apr 15 '11 at 14:51
  • Where do people find such creative misspellings for MacGyver? – Marthaª Apr 15 '11 at 17:24
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    Because the common spelling is MacGuyver, but the TV show used an uncommon spelling. – Chris Cudmore Apr 15 '11 at 19:27

I'm a big fan of "ramshackle" for the sake of its colorful phonetic structure and the words (ram + shackled is so much more visually interesting than its possible origin in ransack)

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Bodged is my contribution to the discussion, but I'd also echo Callithumpian's cobbled.

In the UK, you'll often hear hastily-designed/assembled things as being Heath Robinson efforts efforts.

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  • Isn't "Heath Robinson" more akin to "Rube Goldberg machine"? Not so much about the hastiness, more about the needless complexity. – Ed Guiness Apr 15 '11 at 14:02
  • @Ed, yes - I guess hastiness is less the issue; it's more about complexity but also the art of making ill-fitting components achieve a greater aim. Rather than a carefully designed and crafted machine, something cobbled together out of available but ill-suited items might be described as Heath Robinson-esque. – CJM Apr 15 '11 at 14:13

There's "spit and baling wire" but it's not one word. And there's "hillbilly" used as an adjective (most famously, US troops in Iraq contriving "hillbilly armor" for underarmored Humvees).

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Busk. If I’m going into a meeting completely unprepared, I know I’m going to busk it.

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  • I can’t find any definition in the OED that matches your use of busk. In fact, it seems exactly opposite of your use. – tchrist Aug 18 '12 at 12:33
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    @tchrist: Busk it is British slang for to improvise.. It's also in OED under busk Verb entry 4, definition 3b trans. and intr. slang. (orig. Jazz) and colloq. To improvise (esp. music); to speak or write without preparation. Also in to busk it. – FumbleFingers Aug 26 '14 at 17:40

Haphazard could also work an adjective. Example:

When you place a book on a desk it should be placed there in a straight, orderly way, not in a haphazard way.


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How about jerry built, sometimes hyphenated as jerry-built, meaning "Built in a makeshift and insubstantial manner."


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  • Welcome to EL&U! Please explain your answer further detailing why you think it's appropriate in this situation. – BladorthinTheGrey Nov 20 '16 at 17:10

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