I came across the word, “the fiscal equivalent of spit and glue” in today’s (July 29) article of New York Times reporting the inside story of the decision of Jay H. Walder, chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to move to a Hong Kong transit firm as its head, under the title, “Governor said to have irked Transit leader who is leaving.”

The article reads:

“He will be paid a much higher salary and direct the fortunes of a multinational corporation that oversees rail, real estate and economic development interests all around the world. In New York, he faced the opposite: a creaking system struggling to pay its bills, a capital investment program held together with the fiscal equivalent of spit and glue.”

I checked dictionaries at hand and both Cambridge and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries, I was unable to find the definition of “spit and glue,” although there was an entry of ‘spit and polish’ in the latter.

From the context of the above clip, I guess ‘spit and glue’ means patchwork or a makeshift measure, but I’m not sure. What does ‘spit and glue’ exactly mean? Can the word be applied to the topics of financial policies of U.S., Japan, or any other countries who are suffering mounting debt problems?

  • 1
    Related: Spit and baling wire
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 31, 2011 at 3:23
  • @Kit. Thank you. I didn’t know there is an equivalent idiom, ‘spit and baling wire’ to ‘spit and glue.’ Though it’s easier for me to memorize ‘spit and glue’ than ‘spit and baling wire,’ it helps to enrich my stock of English idioms to get used to both. Jul 31, 2011 at 4:28
  • You are most welcome. You may wish to compare this phrase to on a wing and a prayer, which is similar.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 31, 2011 at 11:23
  • There's also spit and polish for a cursory tidy up (usually, of appearance), and spit and sawdust used to identify a down-market or "no frills" public bar. Jul 31, 2011 at 15:31
  • @Yoichi, another similar (but slightly different) expression is "jury rig" - meaning a make-shift solution (ie: you don't have the EXACT parts needed to make the CORRECT solution, but, you do the best you can with the parts at hand). A "jury rig" simply means exactly that on a sailing ship.
    – Fattie
    Jul 31, 2011 at 17:42

1 Answer 1


You've pretty much got it with "patchwork or a makeshift measure." A very similar usage of the phrase can be found in a 2008 article from Advertising Age: "Team McCain Reclaims Lead With 'Spit and Glue'". Reading that article might give you a clearer idea of the full meaning of the idiom. You can think of "spit and glue" as "whatever's at hand, though it might not be the ideal or preferred solution."

In the passage you quoted, the full phrase is actually "held together with spit and glue"--it's just confusing because "the fiscal equivalent" intrudes into the middle of the phrase. Something that's held together with spit and glue (or, as Kit mentioned, spit and baling wire) has been patched together to work for the short-term, but it's not very strong or stable, and may not last for long.

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