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I'm looking for a phrase to describe fixing the relatively minor problems of something with addressing a larger underlying problem. One example would be if a house had a bug infestation and someone simply covered any holes the bugs were coming through instead of dealing with the infestation itself. Or similarly, patching up a hole each time it appeared in worn-out clothing.

I thought the term was spot-fixing, but looking online, this seems to be associated with illegal sport fixing.

edit: To clarify, I'm looking for a phrase to describe each of the individual fixes made. in other words, something that would fit in the blank here: "He made another __ by duct-taping the crack in the wall". Or similarly "patching the hole was another ___ but the shirt needed to be replaced".

  • Will a phrase work, or are you after a single term? "Fixing the symptoms but not the root cause" seems to match perfectly what you're describing. – R Mac Sep 2 '16 at 17:59
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    Possible duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/questions/123772/… – Lemma Sep 2 '16 at 18:02
  • @Lemma: I wouldn't state it as an exact duplicate, but rather a feasible solution to the problem. – Ébe Isaac Sep 2 '16 at 18:13
  • @ÉbeIsaac Can you elaborate? Your description of the meaning as written above appears to fit perfectly the question posted by Lemma. – R Mac Sep 2 '16 at 18:19
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    Workaround is one used a lot in programming. – developerwjk Sep 2 '16 at 23:20

15 Answers 15

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I would call these fixes "band-aid solutions"

a temporary solution that does not deal with the cause of a problem

from Cambridge

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    Or a "sticking plaster" solution. – abligh Sep 3 '16 at 9:53
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What about the idiomatic phrase, [to] "paper over the cracks"? (BE) To hide problems...in order to make a situation seem better than it really is. Cambridge Dictionary online.

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In the context you are using as example, I would think "stopgap" as a good fit. "Band-aid", "Finger in the dike fix" come to mind as well.

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  • Giving a reference or 2 could improve this helpful answer. – Chemus Sep 3 '16 at 15:19
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Originally AmE, but now used more widely, 'quick-fix' is both a noun and adjective with wide currency:

A. n.
A quick and easy remedy or solution. Also depreciative: an expedient but temporary solution which fails to address underlying problems.

B. adj.
1. That fixes something quickly; (also) that can be fixed or made quickly; that is quick and easy to fit, prepare, etc.
2. fig. Of a measure, solution, repair, etc.: that is a quick-fix; expedient but temporary.

["quick-fix, n. and adj.". OED Online. June 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/265845?redirectedFrom=quick+fix (accessed September 02, 2016).

Recent Examples:

While engineers say improper road design, quick-fix solutions and "perpetual construction activities" are to blame for waterlogging issues, ....

(The Hindu [IN], "Green experts seek revival of natural drainage system", June 20, 2016. Emphasis mine.)

... close to 50 tool tips that provide guidance on selecting the right tool for the job, room renovation reveals, a selection of quick-fix home hacks, ....

(Scoop Business [NZ], "Mitre 10 launches online video channel", 17 August 2016. Emphasis mine.)

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I would call it a cosmetic repair. Collins gives the following definitions for cosmetic:

  • having no other function than to beautify
  • designed to cover up a greater flaw or deficiency; superficial

If you describe measures or changes as cosmetic, you mean they improve the appearance of a situation or thing but do not change its basic nature, and you are usually implying that they are inadequate.

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  • And in the same avenue, perhaps a superficial repair – JeopardyTempest Sep 3 '16 at 10:55
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"Putting lipstick on a pig" is another way to say that something is superficially made to appear better but the basic nature of the "thing", whether it be a computer app or government policy, for example, has remained unchanged.

The expression has been used most famously by the US President, Barrack Obama, during his campaign against John McCain who chose former Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, as his running mate for Vice President. The story and more history of the term appear in this article from "The Guardian" website:

Who coined the phrase 'lipstick on a pig'?

When Barack Obama described John McCain's campaign message of change as "lipstick on a pig" it ignited a flurry of recrimination from the Republican camp. It was claimed he was insulting Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. By saying: "You can put lipstick on a pig - it's still a pig", Obama's team say he was simply describing McCain's effort to rebrand himself.

The phrase is a relatively new colloquialism with a old provenance in the English language. The first printed reference to someone dolling up swine occurred more than 30 years ago, but other iterations go back centuries, according to lexicographer Grant Barrett, of the American Dialect Society. The phrase first appears in print in 1985, when the Washington Post quoted a San Francisco radio host describing a proposal to renovate the city's sports stadium. In 1980, a Washington state newspaper wrote: "You can clean up a pig, put a ribbon on it's [sic] tail, spray it with perfume, but it is still a pig."

"It's probably older than that," Barrett said. "It was probably oral long before it was in print. But the whole idea of gussying up a pig is much older."

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The term used in the specific case of building work and repairs (popularly though not technically correct) and employed in the industry and by ordinary people would be 'bodge'. By extension, the word is used in a wider sense. The term 'shift' is used to describe a 'makeshift' repair that is temporary or impermanent and it can have a figurative connotation too. Also used in the figurative sense of conceal is 'cover up' (a 'cover-up job') to describe work that has been done, often poorly, to hide defects without addressing the underlying problem(s). The term 'whitewash' arises from this idea but is not relevant to the query examples.

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    Questions should be answered as an expert would answer them: comprehensively, with explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Is "bodge" universally known in the English speaking world? Is it a regionalism? etc. – MetaEd Sep 2 '16 at 18:54
  • I've never heard of "bodge," or "shift" outside of "makeshift." (AmE) I've also never heard of "whitewash" to describe anything other than literally painting something white or overusing white actors in a movie that should have diversity. – Azor Ahai Sep 2 '16 at 20:02
  • "Bodge" is pretty common in UK English; I don't know about anywhere else. – Patrick Stevens Sep 4 '16 at 7:23
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I would say the handy-man was improvising.

He didn't have the right equipment to deal with the problem so he improvised and stuck some gum on it. The improvisation worked and the car got us home.

Patching the hole was another improvisation...

An alternative might be:

He proposed an ad-hoc solution in light of the fact that no one would actually go underneath the stairwell to see it. So he jury-rigged this ad-hoc contraption, but anyone who happened to know always stepped gingerly on the fourth step.

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  • @ÉbeIsaac, sure. – John Sep 2 '16 at 19:26
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    +1 for patching the hole; I was looking for that in my head. – Ébe Isaac Sep 2 '16 at 19:35
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You are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

To partake in or undertake some task, activity, or course of action that will ultimately prove trivial or futile in its possible effect or outcome.

Since your are duct taping a wall the implied futility and impending doom might be very appropriate. That wall will come down at some time.

Random book example:

Rearranging schedules, changing job titles, adding mentoring programs or adopting new curriculums are akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, compared to focusing on the teachers. - Link

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Sounds like a botch(ed) job.

Botch (noun and verb) - a flaw, imperfection, or blemish resulting from unskilful workmanship; a piece of work done hastily, clumsily, or unskilfully; a botched or bungled task or undertaking; a spoiled or mismanaged task or piece of work; a mess.

Frequently in to make a botch of (OED).

Surprisingly old...

Shakespeare Macbeth (1623) iii. i. 135 To leaue no Rubs nor Botches in the Worke.

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    This describes making something worse, not making it superficially better. – talrnu Sep 2 '16 at 21:03
  • @talrnu - indeed, although the 'fixer' is usually intending/hoping to put something right. – Dan Sep 3 '16 at 10:31
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How about interim measure?

interim: In or for the intervening period; provisional or temporary: 'an interim arrangement'

measure: A plan or course of action taken to achieve a particular purpose: 'cost-cutting measures', "children were evacuated as a precautionary measure'

The OP's examples:

"He took (made) another interim measure by duct-taping the crack in the wall".

"Patching the hole was another interim measure but the shirt needed to be replaced".

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The best specific word I know is "kludge" or sometimes "kludge-fix".

Kludge (n.): "(general) Any construction or practice, typically inelegant, designed to solve a problem temporarily or expediently." https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/kludge

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She darned the patch so he had something to wear, but really, that shirt was ready for the rag bin.

This means the clothing was repaired too many times, and the repairs weren't working any more.

He made another non-solution by duct-taping the crack in the wall.

The other phrases proposed are also excellent. I just wanted to give you a few more options.

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Window dressing

One of the definitions from Marian-Webster is consistent with "phrase to describe each of the individual fixes made":

something used to create a deceptively favorable or attractive impression

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Jerry-rig. "The door hinge was broken, but I jerry-rigged it."

I was looking for a particular term that I couldn't quite recall, that is how I ended up at this site. The word I was looking for came to mind while I was reading the other answers.

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