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I'm writing a technical document, and I need to convey the fact that we had to find a non-optimal, non-orthodox solution that was adopted as the best available alternative (a hack) to solve an otherwise problematic issue.

Please note that I refer to the positive meaning of "hack", and not at the negative one, as clarified in this question.

To me, "escamotage" doesn't sound really appropriate in a technical document, and "hack" seems a bit informal and not very "technical".

Is there a construction that can help?

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    I think a formal document wouldn't attempt to describe the hackishness of a solution. It would just say that a solution or workaround was implemented. – Barmar Jan 12 '15 at 22:14
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    You found a "non-traditional solution". Or perhaps "synthesized a solution in an organic fashion". – Hot Licks Jan 12 '15 at 22:48
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    @HotLicks You have a future in corporate double-speak. – Barmar Jan 12 '15 at 23:19
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    Well, you could call your sleight of hand an "ad hoc" solution to a pressing problem. "Ad hoc" is a fairly neutral-sounding term which implies you did what you had to do given the exigencies of the situation. – rhetorician Jan 13 '15 at 0:40
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    Prioritising ruthlessly with an eye to completion dates, your team devised an innovative solution which prevented mission creep by directing resources to other project strands as soon as the sub-module was on-specification. – A E Jan 13 '15 at 10:44

14 Answers 14

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I would go so far as to say that unless you are very sure of your audience, you should not use "escamotage" at all, as it is not in broad circulation (0 hits at the Corpus of Contemporary American English(COCA)) .

If you don't want to label it a hack, a short descriptive phrase such as "short-term patch" or "temporary workaround" that emphasize that it is not a viable long-term arrangement should be suitable.

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    Workaround sounds appropriate! – clabacchio Jan 12 '15 at 23:32
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    Workaround can sound inappropriate. It means "achieving your goal by doing something else", not modifying something so it performs closer to what is expected. – Jens Jan 13 '15 at 15:11
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    Workaround fits exactly. The goal is achieved, not by the usual way (which would be far too difficult / expensive / time consuming in this case), but instead by "a non-optimal, non-orthodox solution". – RemcoGerlich Jan 13 '15 at 15:13
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    It certainly fails to fit in the case where the hack is usually what the programmer does to fix something, while a workaround is what a user does (or is told to do) to circumvent a problem that gets not fixed but worked around. Xcuse me for being dense ;-) In my little world of software engineering we keep the distinction. – Jens Jan 13 '15 at 16:35
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    'Temporary workaround' says all there needs to be said in two words. The first that you think the problem will need further work in the future, and it should not be considered a permanent part of your coding structure. The second, that the problem has been navigated around but that said problem still exists. +1 for temporary workaround. – Rudi Jan 14 '15 at 15:25
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I' have seen the term quick fix (119 million google hits) used in similar circumstances. It has all the connotation of "not optimal" since that would require time for properly engineering a better solution.

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    Alternatively: "Quick and dirty fix" (or quick and dirty patch) – Denis de Bernardy Jan 13 '15 at 11:13
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    It means exactly what I want to say, but I find it a bit informal – clabacchio Jan 13 '15 at 16:56
  • Also: hot fix; some companies offer this as a first aid for trouble with their product until a real fix is provided. – Jens Jan 14 '15 at 7:26
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    @Jens: to me, "hot fix" means a change applied directly to the running (hot) production server. It suggests that the change isn't yet part of the primary maintenance cycle for the product, but doesn't suggest that the fix is in itself unorthodox or suboptimal, just that it's been distributed or applied that way (to get ahead of the regular release cycle, for example). Of course, some hotfixes are themselves also hacks! – Steve Jessop Jan 14 '15 at 11:20
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Expedient:

(noun) Something contrived or used to meet an urgent need; a means devised or employed in an exigency: Use any expedients you think necessary to get over the obstacles in your way.
(adj) tending to promote some proposed or desired object; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances;

(sources: The Free Dictionary, Dictionary.com)

The etymology of expedient, from the Online Etymology Dictionary is from expedite:

expedite (v.) Look up expedite at Dictionary.com c.1500 (implied in past participle expedit "accomplished"), from Latin expeditus, past participle of expedire "extricate, disengage, liberate; procure, make ready, put in order, make fit, prepare; explain, make clear," literally "free the feet from fetters," hence to liberate from difficulties, from ex- "out" (see ex-) + *pedis "fetter, chain for the feet," related to pes (genitive pedis) "foot" (see foot (n.)). Compare Greek pede "fetter." Related: Expedited; expediting.

Some definitions indicate that an expedient conveys a sense of reduced moral interest, particularly a sense of being used in one's self interest, but the etymology doesn't show this. At the same time, other definitions (some given above) suggest that an expedient is less about perfection and more about making progress. Thus it may be a stopgap, a makeshift approach, a hack.

I use expedient in technical reports in the same or similar way to your need. Here is an example:

As an expedient, noise was pre-whitened and orthogonalized in non-real-time software. This was done to avoid the cost and time it would take to implement a hardware solution with the limited resources that were available. This can be shown to have been done without introducing any bias in the final results.

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    I like expedient, the last paragraph is very similar to my situation. And "less about perfection, more about making progress" sums it up. – clabacchio Jan 13 '15 at 7:32
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You might choose to describe it as a "makeshift solution."

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    Doesn't it sound a bit informal? – clabacchio Jan 13 '15 at 16:54
  • @clabacchio Makeshift isn't itself informal, just not expressly formal. In a technical document it should work just fine. It's also clear and concise, which a good technical document will aim for over being verbose and full of business-ese. – Martin Carney Jan 14 '15 at 16:46
  • @Martin Carney, agreed. Makeshift is standard English. A search of case law on Google Scholar shows about 3,000 uses of the term in legal opinions. I think "makeshift" has an advantage over some of the other proposals in that it means exactly what you want to express without having many (any?) alternate meanings. – Alan Kessler Jan 14 '15 at 23:07
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Workaround or Kludge.

Kludge is a bit negative connotation but fits if it's a temporary hack that will be re-addressed so the negative meaning isn't dwelled upon.

Workaround has no real negative connotations and simply implies you had to find a route other than the typical one to get it done.

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    I myself would see kludge as just as informal or slangy as hack, if not more so. – TimLymington Jan 13 '15 at 10:42
  • @TimLymington - In the context of computers "hack" is much more negative - especially to non-tech and/or management types - than kludge. To a non-tech crowd "hack" almost always connotes illegal or dangerous activity whereas "kludge" is more of an amalgam of makeshift parts to [temporarily] workaround a problem. i.e. something "held together with bubble gum and rubber bands" – JoelAZ Jan 13 '15 at 21:50
  • Kuldge is a good thing! Means you're clever. – Dave Kanter Jan 13 '15 at 23:19
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    @JoelAZ for sure. My first link gives a pretty good summary of all the known history and concludes with: "Some observers consider this mess appropriate in view of the word's meaning." – imallett Jan 16 '15 at 7:26
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    @imallett Yes, that line always makes me lol. The Wikipedia article (iirc) includes all that and elaborates even more on the etymology of the 'kludge' spelling. True SNAFU ;) – JoelAZ Jan 16 '15 at 7:31
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if you have plans on improving the solution later on - you can try using "an interim solution"

n. An interval of time between one event, process, or period and another. adj. Belonging to, serving during, or taking place during an intermediate interval of time; temporary: an interim agreement. See Synonyms at temporary.

9

MacGyvered - just kidding. I would say improvise: as in an improvised solution.

Improvise has a positive connotation of quick-wittedness about it.

8

When I have need to describe this sort of thing in the past, I've always wanted to stress that, if a future project would expand this part of the system, this hack would probably need to be redone properly. I called it a provisional solution. In my mind it conveys the important things -- yes it is a working solution, no it's not done in the proper way, and yes you will extra budget for improvement at some point if work on it continues.

But I like "workaround" and "unorthodox solution" just as much, they just highlight different properties.

4

I would describe it as a tactical solution (in contrast to a strategic solution) to indicate that the fix isn't necessarily a long-term or clean one, but makes sense given the local/short-term constraints.

  • I like it, but I have some doubt on whether most readers would understand it without explanation. – RemcoGerlich Jan 13 '15 at 15:21
  • This is a common term used by large corporate development teams in the United Kingdom to express that the solution is non-optimal and short-term, especially in the finance industry (banks, accounting firms, financial regulators). – toadflakz Jan 16 '15 at 11:11
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Ingenious could work depending on inventiveness of the solution.

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    only a very small subset of hacks are ingenious. but you did make me laugh :) – kns98 Jan 13 '15 at 17:01
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I suggestion you say something like, "We implemented a solution that was non-optimal and atypical." Then in the rest of the document, simply call your action "the solution." If your audience is technical enough to distinguish "workaround" from "we fixed the bug/problem" then they would be technical enough to understand the nuances of "hack."

Since they are not, don't burden them with words that even remotely technical except where necessary. My intuition is that your audience is most interested in whether the problem is gone. To them, if the problem, is gone, you implemented a solution. Any nuance on solution will either be a distraction to them or wasted on them.

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patch is the technical jargon for a simple temporary solution in programming.

  1. Computing A small piece of code inserted into a program to improve its functioning or to correct a fault:
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    I don't think he's talking about hacks that break things. He's talking about clever solutions to problems. – Barmar Jan 12 '15 at 22:27
  • That explains why escamotage didn't make sense to me. Is that a British expression for patch? – ScotM Jan 12 '15 at 23:13
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    It also helps that I've been a computer programmer long enough to remember when "hack" referred to clever programming, not breaking into computers. – Barmar Jan 12 '15 at 23:20
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    I also went to MIT, where we use the term to refer to clever pranks. – Barmar Jan 12 '15 at 23:20
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    OED agrees with me, sorry. Definition 6: oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/patch I'm satisfied to notice that the accepted answer and the answer with the most up votes also included the word patch, and was submitted after my answer! – ScotM Jan 22 '15 at 23:38
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I use the term creative solution meaning "hack" (or even "bodge.")

0

I guess I might call such a thing an ad hoc solution. Or perhaps a pragmatic one. To me (but I'm not a native speaker), both of these terms convey the image of something which works well enough in practice, but which is neither beautifully designed nor has been subject to much theoretical analysis.

protected by Kit Z. Fox Jan 14 '15 at 1:20

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