I'm looking for a more politically correct substitute for the expression "poor man's", meaning an inferior improvised or makeshift substitute. Usage examples:

  • "Guncotton is the poor man's TNT"
  • "Poor man's oyster" (mussels, or coughed up phlegm)

My hesitance is mainly because it is not as gender neutral as perhaps it once was. The closest I can think of is "pauper's", but I don't know many examples of usage.

  • Most of the substitutes I know of are more vulgar, not less. "Poor man's" has always been kind of a polite euphemism.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:03
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    I don't find the idiom poor man's politically charged. I use it for things I do/have/use myself. But I might well be wrong. I've been very poor (and I don't mean while I've been in uni/med school. I mean growing up we were dirt poor.) It's not something insulting. It just is. Maybe what might be insulting is that you think being poor is an insult? It's not insulting. It just is. "The poor you will always have among you..." Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:11
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    Thanks for educating me. I was more concerned about gender neutrality, and I have edited the question. Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:18
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    I wonder why gender neutrality is even an issue here.
    – tinlyx
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 0:17
  • Try low-cost alternative to: “Guncotton is a low-cost alternative to TNT”. Or if you want to be a bit more negative “cheap substitute
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 22:24

9 Answers 9


Gender neutrality is fine, I even like it. But sometimes it is carried so far, it's burdensome.

I am a member of mankind. That doesn't bother me on a gender level. It is no more charged for me than humankind. I may well not represent the majority here.

If you're going to talk about a poor man's oyster, I'd much rather you kept the word man in there.

If you use the pauper's (x), I'm certain it will be understood, even though it's not used right now.

But "Poor man's" is fine with me.

If Seth MacFarlane is the poor man's version of any celebrity... -Jezebel
Sorbet is the poor man's ice cream. -Jezebel
Lady Gaga is the poor man's Madonna. -Jezebel

(What does any of that even mean?) I'm not a reader (nor a fan) of Jezebel. But if a self-proclaimed feminist publication uses it so often, you should not fear to use it for gender reasons. Just please write better than Jezebel.

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    "Just please write better than Jezebel." Thats a pretty low bar to set.
    – user53089
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 5:04

Both "bargain-basement NOUN" and "cut-rate NOUN" express the essential idea of a lower-quality substitute or stand-in, as does "ersatz NOUN." Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) defines ersatz as follows:

ersatz adj (1875) : being a usu. artificial and inferior substitute or imitation [examples omitted]

None of these options works as a straight swap for "the poor man's NOUN," however. You would have to reframe the guncotton example (for instance) to say something like this:

"Functionally, guncotton amounts to bargain-basement TNT."


"Guncotton works like cut-rate TNT."


"Guncotton is essentially ersatz TNT."

I share anongoodnurse's view that "poor man's" is unlikely to be deemed politically or sociologically insulting in most settings, but offense is in the brain of the taker whether the giver intends it so or not. Fortunately, if you want to avoid the expression "poor man's NOUN"—for whatever reason—you'll find that many alternative wordings are readily available.

  • This is really an excellent answer. I wonder why I never saw it? Glad to see your well-deserved rep! Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 16:37

What's wrong with makeshift ? (which you mention in the question itself) I was doing something else and ran across the word and suddenly remembered this question. It might lack the connotation of cheapness but maybe it is useful.


"Budget" as in "Mussels are a budget version of oysters - most of the taste for a fraction of the cost."

"Sensible" would be an alternative with a slight positive connotation. "This mini-MPV is a sensible replacement to a lumbering station-wagon - you save money without compromising capacity or practicality."


For what you are trying to say, you could (I do) use the phrase "quick & dirty" to mean pretty much the same thing as "poor-man's". I realize it doesn't carry the connotation of being inexpensive, but "poor-man's" doesn't necessarily either. Many times it means just that it is the option which is more readily available to the common person, whether that is because of how expensive it is, or other things like its rarity. While not a perfect substitution, it is gender neutral and would fit for the examples you give, IMHO. Hope this helps.

  • well, maybe not for oyster. but for the guncotton/TNT one it would fit. It DOES work to mean an improvised and possibly inferior substitute, so yep.
    – Ron Kyle
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 3:47
  • Pauper is an antiquated word that will seem awkward or pretentious in use, if understood at all.

  • El cheapo, China store, redneck, ghetto can be seen as racist, but are often used.

  • Generic, Lite, no-name, off-brand, knock-off, dollar store, back alley (can indicate illegality), wannabe (or copy-cat but less so).

The idea that “poor man’s X” is not gender neutral is hilarious though.

  • I would complain about the downvotes, but I understand this stack is all about the pedantic :D
    – cde
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 8:48
  • I don't know why it was down voted. Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 11:17
  • For some reason, "back alley" reminded me of the expression "shadetree mechanic" which can be illegal if the work is paid without tax. "Hey, buddy, I need car repair." "Oh, yeah, I know a guy."
    – durette
    Commented May 1 at 15:47
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    @durette similar. Just one has a negative connotation while the other is typically seen positively or neutrally. A bit classist as back alley is urban/poor while shade tree is rural/property owner.
    – cde
    Commented May 2 at 16:33

"Pound Shop" is one possible substitute phrase I heard lately. In a televised incident Russel Brand, talking of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, opined

He's a pound shop Enoch Powell

Pound shops in the UK are budget stores selling most (or all) items for £1

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    Hahah, I don't know why I find pound shop so much funnier than our dollar store, but it has me laughing. +1 for teaching me a new term.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 16:51
  • @DanBron It's probably funnier because it's shorter, two syllables to "dollar store's" three-and-a-half to four. Also "shop" ends on an explosive consonant which gives it more punch. A nice touch of irony is that one of our pound shop chains is owned by a US company.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 7:07

To whatever extent that “a poor man’s (+ NOUN)” might have negative gender and/or economic-class implications to some listeners,

a cheapskate’s (+ NOUN)

would be a gender and economic-class-neutral alternative.

Although cheapskates choose to be cheap, they can live and spend like paupers as mentioned in the example given in the above link.

Here's a curious use, with possible negative economic-class implications, of "poor man's" to describe "the ultimate cheapskate."


"Hack" is an informal/slang term that means "cheap/quick-and-dirty workaround", and is politically neutral.

Example: "I didn't have a hammer and nails, so I used duct tape as a hack."

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    I think hack represents the entirety of the expression “poor man's <noun>” rather than just the <noun> part of it. I wouldn't say I used duct tape as a "poor man's hack." Commented May 11, 2019 at 4:26

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