There in software development, we sometimes use a solution, which is to prop the existing code up, not to fix the real cause of the problem. It might be called “dirty hack,” or “kludge.”

It’s wry and is usually used in a negative sense, like “I’ll put a kludge here for now, but when we are not in rush, it should be fixed properly.” The code behaves as a human being on their crutches: they walk somehow, but the observers fear they to drop down.

My question is: is “kludge” the proper/legit word to use in this context in English, and if not, what is?

  • Kludge is the noun, so that's what you put there for now. Kludgy is an adjective describing what you've put there for now. – deadrat Mar 7 '17 at 8:10
  • @deadrat indeed, thanks, I have updated the question. – Aleksei Matiushkin Mar 7 '17 at 8:11
  • Note that there are those who argue that the "correct" spelling is "kluge" rather than "kludge". Supposedly the former is a German word that some assert is the origin of the nerd term. – Hot Licks Mar 7 '17 at 13:16
  • I've always seen it spelled "kluge", and the pronunciation rhymes with "huge". "Kludge" would rhyme with "fudge". – fixer1234 Mar 7 '17 at 19:25
  • @fixer1234 - I've never heard it pronounced to rhyme with "fudge", regardless of the spelling. – Hot Licks Mar 7 '17 at 23:08

Eric Raymond, The New Hacker's Dictionary, third edition (1996) goes on at great length (two full pages) about the differences between kluge and kludge, the fact that kluge is the older and (for most definitions given) preferable term, and the different supposed etymologies of the two words (kluge "from the German 'klug', clever; poss. related to Polish 'klucza', a trick or hook" and kludge "appears to have been derived from the Scots 'kludge' or 'kludgie' for a common toilet, via British military slang" but "apparently became confused with U.S. kluge during or after World War II"). I have my doubts about this rather elaborate explanation.

It seems far more likely to me that people heard the word kluge spoken before they saw it spelled, and in trying to reproduce the word in writing, some of them chose the spelling kludge. If that is indeed what happened, the spelling owes nothing to the Scottish words kludge and kludgie—which, by the way, are not so much a part of traditional Scots English as to have earned a place in Chambers Scots Dictionary (1911). The entries in Chambers jump from klot ("to scrape up mud, dung, ashes &c.") to klyock ("the last sheaf in harvest") with nary a kludge to be seen.

In contrast to The New Hacker's Dictionary, third edition, Oxford Dictionary of Computing, sixth edition (2008) has a notably succinct entry for the term (which it spells kludge):

kludge Informal An inelegant but effective mechanism (software and/or hardware).

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) does not hazard a guess as to the term's origin, but treats it as a word in in good standing:

kludge or kluge {origin unknown} (1962) : a system and esp. a computer system made up of of poorly matched components — kludgy also kludgey adj.

That definition seems out of date as a description of what most people mean by the word kludge today. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2011) does a much better job:

kludge or kluge n. Slang 1. A system, especially a computer system that is constituted of poorly matched elements or of elements originally intended for other applications. 2. A clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem.{Probably alteration of mid-20th century American military slang kluge, complex device with a simple function, perhaps of imitative origin or perhaps after the Kluge (paper feeder), a piece of printing equipment first manufactured in 1919 by Brandtjen & Kluge, Inc., and reputedly difficult to repair.}

George Mills, Platen Press Operation (1953) offers a possible explanation of why "Kluge" might have become associated with mixing and matching parts from different manufacturers:

The Kluge automatic press consists of a platen press similar to the hand fed machine described in chapter III, with the Kluge feeder attached. The feeder was designed to be attached to presses of other makes and was produced for ten years before the company began making presses. It may still be purchased without the press.

So it's possible that pressmen at companies that added a Kluge paper feeder to a different-make press might have come to speak informally of the hybrid machine—or the add-on part—as "a kluge."

In any event, to return to the poster's question, the latest American Heritage Dictionary confirms that using kludge to mean "A clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem"—the meaning that the poster seems to have in mind—is common in recent U.S. English usage. According to AHDES, the term kludge itself is "slang," and similarly, Oxford Dictionary of Computing calls the term "informal." But the Eleventh Collegiate doesn't attach any label to it, thus implying that it is a part of normal, everyday English.

My impression is that kludge tends to show up in informal, conversational-style writing rather than in relatively formal writing. At the computer magazines where I worked for many years, kludge and kludgy appeared in articles fairly frequently, without anyone batting an eye. In a computing milieu, then, I think kludge is generally acceptable and very likely to be understood in the intended sense.

  • The brilliant answer shed a light on many more aspects of the problem than I could ever imagine. Thank you very much, I really appreciate your effort in putting it altogether. – Aleksei Matiushkin Mar 12 '17 at 9:04
  • My sympathies. Whenever someone gives a good answer to a question about technical English there seems to be a group of people who resent the fact that it is out of their sphere and retaliate by finding a reason to close it. – David Mar 12 '17 at 20:26
  • I will note that about 20-25 years ago I was told by a person of Danish origin (someone with considerable technical background) that there is a German word that he pronounced "clue-gay", more or less, and which means "deviously clever". He attributed the English term "kluge" to that. – Hot Licks Mar 13 '17 at 0:40
  • @HotLicks Not deviously so, just clever. Klug is the common German word (well, one of them anyway) for ‘clever/smart/intelligent’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 13 '17 at 1:23

Kludgy is a trade-specific word, so in a context where the audience is all aware of the term, it would be fine to use as is. In other contexts, you would need to explain it initially if you planned to keep using it.

If you want a completely different word, then one could say they installed a provisional fix/solution.

Provisional or temporary both work. The term "place-holder" might work.

  • I believe “provisional fix” lacks nasty and wry connotations, that “kludgy” has, is it true? I don’t want to lose them, making the definition a self-excuse. – Aleksei Matiushkin Mar 7 '17 at 7:50
  • I see -- I thought you were looking for something that didn't have the negative connotation. Provisional is very neutral and respectful. – Murgatroyd Mayne Mar 7 '17 at 7:57
  • A term like "makeshift" can be used as an adjective or a noun. It denotes a haphazardly put together solution that may not stand up for long (stop-gap, jury-rigged, slap dash, or a fancy one: ersatz). Ersatz is a good choice to imply inferior quality. Plus it's a cool word. – Murgatroyd Mayne Mar 7 '17 at 8:05
  • @MurgatroydMayne Ersatz means a substitute or replacement -- that's what it means in German -- that's inferior to the original. A kludge is inferior software, but it's an addition, not a replacement. – deadrat Mar 7 '17 at 8:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.