The meaning of Polish 'doing something on knees' or 'on a knee' is completely different than English: https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/on-your-knees

It is rather a metaphor to a student who instead of doing his homework properly at the home, he did it in hurry, supported his notebook on knees and did it in a short break between classes.

In other words it means doing something in hurry, usually resulting in poor quality and unsophisticated enough.

Some usage:

Who designed this building? Looks like some architect 'made it on a knee'...

Or nowadays according to software engineering:

There are lots of bugs in this application! They came short on deadlines and 'wrote it on their knees' even without unit tests...

My question is, is there an English equivalent (in idiom or phrase) which preserves this meaning better?


After reading some answers I realized that my examples were a little bit misleading.

In reality, the phrase does not carry itself any negative connotations about the 'author'. Rather poor quality of his job results.

The only negative connotations about author we can only deduce from the quality of his job: 'He did his job inaccurately so we can assume that he may be inaccurate.' or 'You Will Know Them by Their Fruits' sort of thing.

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    My Polish is rusty, but what is the original phrase, "na kolanie"? Never heard of it before. – Sled Oct 29 '18 at 15:02
  • In German, there is "etwas übers Knie brechen", literally "to break something over one's knee". Breakin a stick is usually much easier, when there is something to appy a force in a direction opposite the one in which one is trying to bend the stick. So, using one's knee for that, one is "breaking over one's knee". (I'm not aware of the same idiom in English...) - But, as at least the second exaple suggests, OP's intended usage is more on the lines of "didn't use a desk, but just scribbled on a pad on one's knees"... – I'm with Monica Oct 29 '18 at 15:21
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    Although kolano means knee, the best translation of na kolanie is usually "in one's lap", not "on one's knee". "On one's knee" in English means "kneeling". This is one of the examples where the colloquial terms for body parts don't match very well. – Mark Beadles Oct 29 '18 at 18:42
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    This isn't a widely-used phrase (which is why I'm making this a comment rather than an answer), but my grandpa - a painting contractor - used to call this kind of work a "50-50 job" when he admonished his employees. The person he was yelling at would assume he meant that the job was only half-done, but he would go on to explain that it meant "From 50 feet away, at 50 miles an hour, it looks OK." – MT_Head Oct 29 '18 at 22:28
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    @ArtB I suspect it's a calque of Russian "на коленке", which is widely used and idiomatic. – Joker_vD Oct 29 '18 at 23:51

26 Answers 26




Done too hurriedly and carelessly.

She frowned at the messy handwriting and slapdash clump of phrases.


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    I think this is a better answer, but nobody has naturally used this word in a sentence in maybe 50 years. In the USA, anyway. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:44
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    Yes -- 'slapdash' was a quick way to apply plaster, since supplanted by drywall. – AmI Oct 30 '18 at 2:15
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    @Gerald It's used in the UK a lot -- we're using it about our government right now. – user26179 Oct 30 '18 at 9:03
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    I agree, it must be a different region thing because I'm Scottish and I've heard this term frequently enough that I certainly wouldn't call it archaic. – DoctorPenguin Oct 30 '18 at 9:16
  • I'm in the US (California), and I wouldn't call it archaic. It's not a particularly common word, but I don't think anyone would look at me weird if I used it naturally. – neminem Oct 31 '18 at 15:15

quick and dirty

Makeshift; done or produced hastily.
‘a quick and dirty synopsis of their work’


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    I think this might be "close enough" to what the OP wants, but quick and dirty does not necessarily imply that the work is not acceptable. That is mostly from context. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:42
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    @Gerald the op doesn't seem to be looking for something "unnacceptable," just low quality and not the best solution, which quick and dirty STRONGLY implies. – Aethenosity Oct 29 '18 at 19:13
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    @Gerald which would work with quick and dirty. We're talking about an unacceptable level of sophistication, not unacceptable period. There is a pretty big difference between the two. Fyi, use the @ symbol before my name to notify me (like I did with you), otherwise I might not see it – Aethenosity Oct 29 '18 at 21:40
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    "Cheap and dirty" is the idiom I'm more familiar with. – Hot Licks Oct 29 '18 at 21:58
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    But with regard to "quick and dirty" there is this interesting historical connection: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/86-DOS – Hot Licks Oct 29 '18 at 22:04

Threw it together, often with at the last minute appended is frequently used for a project that was done on short notice with little planning. It often but not always implies that the quality suffers as a result.

Who designed this building? Looks like some architect threw it together at the last minute.

When talking about computer software in particular, the term kludge is often used to mean a quick but low-quality solution to a problem. Usually it means a deliberate choice to use a poor solution, something the creator is not proud of but was forced to do by circumstances.

There are lots of bugs in this application! They came short on deadlines and kludged it together.

  • Thrown together is really what the OP wants, I think. Kludge is pretty much techy jargon. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:46
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    @Gerald I agree, but since the asker specifically provided a software example I thought it was worth including. – barbecue Oct 29 '18 at 19:13
  • I missed that. I still think thrown together is probably more generally useful. Sometimes a kludge is all you can do given technical limitations, and it can be acceptable from a time/risk perspective. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 19:23
  • Yeah, kludge is a great word, but it is pretty jargony (most software people and a lot of engineers would know what it meant, probably nobody outside those fields. Therefore, I would feel weird applying it to anything that was neither software nor engineering. A car could be kludgy, for instance - I'd feel weird calling a building kludgy, unless it was particularly high-tech.) – neminem Oct 31 '18 at 15:16

So far I've not seen Slip shod, meaning rapid work of inferior quality. If I recall correctly, it is in reference to the making of shoes.

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    Slipshod is typically written as a single word, but otherwise spot-on. – Nuclear Hoagie Oct 29 '18 at 18:19
  • I think this is another good answer, but also one that is borderline archaic language. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:51
  • Mirriam-Webster: 2: "careless, slovenly". It is indeed a reference to shoes, but not to their manufacture. Various sources (e.g. here) claim it refers to wearing slip-on shoes (like modern slippers) publicly. – brichins Oct 31 '18 at 15:15

cobble together (or cobble up):

To make something or put something together hastily or carelessly.

Who cobbled this thing up? Take it apart and start over.

The kids cobbled up their model planes badly.

(McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)

However, I think there is a small nuance that sets these two expressions apart.

While the Slavic "on a knee" is frequently used to criticise the end result, the English "cobble together" feels more like a somewhat neutral statement of the fact that the work was done hastily and with no due diligence, leaving the final judgement of whether that hastiness was justified or not to the listener. After all, if a flash flood comes, a cobbled together raft is better than no raft at all.

  • I agree that this is missing the negative connotation of the work not being acceptable. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:57
  • Not at all. Slavic on a knee can of course be used to point out the reason of poor quality but the phrase itself doesn't imply such meaning at all. Some of your examples are non-translatable to Polish but the other way round is OK - all usages of Polish on a knee seem to be covered. – Ister Oct 31 '18 at 11:43

There are several idioms that mean a poor and hasty solution:

  • "Phoning it in" - to complete a job with minimum effort
  • "half assed" - meaning an incomplete job or a job with poor quality
  • "spit and duct tape" - a hasty and or temporary solution
  • I was going to include "a wing and a prayer" but that's more of a reckless gamble... – djm Oct 29 '18 at 15:22
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    I think half-assed is the best option for what OP is looking for. – Jim Oct 29 '18 at 16:02
  • I also think half-assed is probably the best option. Something can be quick and dirty and still be acceptable work. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:41
  • spit and duct tape has other Polish equivalent, which is na gumkę i sznurek (literally with a rubber and string). Of course meanings are quite close, however while na gumkę i sznurek is sort of by definition poor quality, na kolanie can be of good quality if the person who is doing it is actually skilled. – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 7:49
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    "Phoning it in" has connotations primarily of laziness and lack of investment in the project, rather than particularly having hurried. – Ruadhan2300 Oct 30 '18 at 9:19

I would affirm quick and dirty as having the closest meaning and usage to what you describe. However, the closest metaphoric parallel is a "back-of-the-envelope" or "back of a napkin" calculation or drawing. This is often done by someone with skill, who is imagined as having a casual conversation about an idea, perhaps over lunch, and makes some quick calculations on an envelope, or sketches a crude diagram on the paper napkin.

"Quick and dirty" similarly describes the process and resulting work, without specifying anything about the author or causes of their rushed efforts, whereas the metaphor of your Polish phrase seems to denigrate the author as juvenile, unprepared, and irresponsible.

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    But back of the envelope/napkin really describes a prototype or sketch of something that might be built. It does not represent the final product itself. Unless you are members of Spinal Tap. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:55
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    "back of an envelope" or "drawn on a napkin" is the best answer. – Ben Oct 30 '18 at 12:09
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    Back-of-an-envelope work is never meant to be the final design, though. It's just enough of a sketch to figure out whether the idea is worth pursuing in detail. – zwol Oct 30 '18 at 13:25

Half-assed is the phrase for not putting your full attention and effort into a task. The origin of the term half assed

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    If the OP can accept what is a very mild obscenity I think half-assed is the best answer. A more polite way to say it would be half-baked. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:50
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    Different meanings though. Half assed is lack of effort while half baked is lack of planning or rigor. – William Grobman Oct 30 '18 at 0:08
  • @WilliamGrobman I'd always assumed it meant "not done yet" as in taking bread or cake out of the oven before it is complete. Still not exactly the same thing, granted. – Gerald Oct 31 '18 at 10:22

did his homework on the bus

An American idiom that's similar to the Polish is "wrote it on the bus" or "did his homework on the bus." In the idiom, bus means school bus.

For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted in 2013, "Finishing a tune at 10:30 for actors who are learning it at 11. Horrible horrible when will I stop doing my homework on the bus I'm 33."

  • Awesome. In fact that is exactly the same source (etymology) of the idiom. I would give +n if I could. It is only AmE, am I right? – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 7:58
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    @Ister BrE as well, evidence – AakashM Oct 30 '18 at 9:01
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    @AakashM I must admit I skimmed only first two pages of results but they seem to use a direct meaning of the phrase rather than idiomatic. – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 9:07
  • I don't think that's an idiom, so much as a common activity that LMM was using metaphorically. If he hadn't set it up with context the way he had (and remember tweets have limited characters, so that context was a huge sacrifice of space), I don't think he could have said it there. – T.E.D. Oct 30 '18 at 18:31
  • That phrase is taken literally, as the examples AakashM links to show. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 31 '18 at 17:13

I've looked at the other answers, but few of them in my view really capture the essential point that the work was done too quickly.

I would suggest a rushed job.

There is also a well known adage in English which says more haste, less speed, which is connected to this.

It is also related to the well-known Aesop fable of The Hare and the Tortoise, which is often quoted in English - meaning that it is not always the person who is fastest who gets to the required objective first.

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    A rushed job or rush-job does imply that the resulting work is sub-standard. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 19:01
  • more haste, less speed is closer to Polish spiesz się powoli (literally hurry slowly) – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 7:51
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    Have only ever heard "rush job", not "rushed job" – brichins Oct 31 '18 at 15:16

I think the closest equivalent (the one I thought of immediately!) would be a "bodge job", or "botch job" (from "bodged/botched job").

This describes something that has been botched (carried out carelessly/bungled) and the resulting object or piece of work is a bodge job.

There may be a slight difference in meaning between the two forms (see the comments on this answer), with "botch job" emphasising that something was simply done badly or ruined, and "bodge job" emphasising that it done quickly and/or carelessly.

Example: "Who designed that building? Looks like the architect made a bodge job of it".

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    To my ears, a botched job is done wrong, not merely or even necessarily hastily. Wiktionary seems to indicate clumsiness and incompetence rather than haste. – sondra.kinsey Oct 29 '18 at 15:06
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    I'd go further than saying it's sometimes pronounced 'bodge'. At least in British English, that's a perfectly valid form. – origimbo Oct 29 '18 at 15:14
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    Bodge and botch are two separate things, afaik. Bodge comes from the name of a person who makes chair legs by turning, and is associated with something "inelegant but serviceable", botch is something incompetent that is not serviceable. Further explanation at Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodging – Dom Oct 29 '18 at 15:27
  • You can take your time and put in effort and still botch a job, though. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:47
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    I agree with @Dom that bodge and botch are different things. Certainly where I'm from at least (East UK). Botching a job means messing it up, whereas bodging it means doing it unprofessionally or quickly but in a way that might still be serviceable. – Sean Burton Oct 30 '18 at 21:52

An idiom with similar meaning albeit more literal is rushed through it.

Who designed this building? Looks like some architect rushed through it...

There are lots of bugs in this application! They came short on deadlines and rushed through it even without unit tests...


rush through

  1. To do or complete something in a hurry: The staff rushed through the meeting because they had started late. I rushed through the test and got a lot of answers wrong.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

  • Too me it seems to be the best answer so far (and there are plenty others already) as it has the rush in it, doesn't have a negative result outcome implied (though probable) and is almost interchangeable. Almost as Polish version is used rather with some material work (I mean there is some product as a result of the work) while this English idiom can be used (as in your example) also about totally immaterial things, like meetings. – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 7:56

For calculations and mathematical workings there's back-of-the-envelope calculations

It's used to mean rough work with lots of assumptions and approximations rather than thorough well explained and justified work.


Indeed, knee may convey a connotation of tiredness, submission or defeat, not what we are looking for.

Am I correct to believe that "on a knee" means that you had to do something quickly because there was no time, like a hunter who shoots kneeling because they need to do it fast, without the time to find a proper support for the rifle? Of course the result would be less precise (see brief description here) than e.g. leaning the rifle on a tree, being prone, or prone with a bipod, etc.

The connotation here is the time constraint.

Kneeling position

In that case, a close equivalent (meaning and connotation) would be in a pinch:

pinch: An emergency situation: This coat will do in a pinch. (American Heritage)

So for the hunter:

In a pinch, use the kneeling position for shooting.

Hence your sentence:

There are lots of bugs in this application! They wrote it in a pinch, they did not even have time enough to perform unit testing...

And the student who had not done her/his homework the day before, did it in a pinch (and probably not terribly well!).


whip up or whip out

"produce in a hurry"

"write something hurriedly" https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/whip_something_out_(or_off)

However, "whip" occurs in several idioms and might confuse readers. "Whip out" can mean take out quickly. "Whip up" can mean excite.

  • Does not imply that the work is sub-standard. – Gerald Oct 29 '18 at 18:59
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    To "Whip up a snack" would just mean to make one quickly, no implication of quality at all. – Ruadhan2300 Oct 30 '18 at 9:12

I suggest the phrase “to wing it

From betteratenglish.com:

“To wing it” is an idiom that means to improvise, to do something without proper preparation or time to rehearse.


  • I didn’t have time to prepare this speech, so I’ll have to wing it.
  • She didn’t spend much time getting ready for the meeting; she just kind of winged it
  • I don’t have time to study for the test tomorrow, so I’ll be winging it

Taking your edit into consideration:

The only negative connotations about author we can only deduce from the quality of his job...

The closest phrase I can think of to doing something on knees that is not necessarily negative is...

doing something on the fly

On the fly (informal):

If you do something on the fly, you do it quickly, often while you are doing something else, without preparing and without thinking too much about how it should be done:

This new rule seems to have been created on the fly.


The example sentence above seems to imply something negative about the rule created and, by extension, its creator(s), but on the fly may have positive connotations as well:

On the fly (mainly American):

If you do something on the fly, you do it quickly, without thinking about it or planning it in advance.

These people can make decisions on the fly and don't have to phone home to their boss. This gives architects and designers the power to build an environment, explore it and maybe do some designing on the fly.

Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012



After your edit, I would say on a shoestring



informal A small or inadequate budget.

"many early studies were done on a shoestring"

as modifier "a shoestring budget"

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    "On a shoestring" is about budget, but it doesn't have any particular connotations about time, which seems to be OP's focus here. – Geoffrey Brent Oct 29 '18 at 23:37
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    Also on a shoes string doesn't necessarily imply that something is inadequate or poor quality just that it was done with minimal resources. – Chris Johns Oct 30 '18 at 9:31
  • Before the edit I thought "slapdash". After the OP edited to clarify that the phrase isn't negative about the worker but of their results, I feel that 'on a shoestring' could carry the same sentiment: the quality of output suffered due to a lack of resources (budget, time) – Aaron F Oct 31 '18 at 21:28

At a slight tangent - but possibly useful. "Like a Friday car"



There is exactly same phrase in Russian.

I would translate as "slap together". As OP mentions, it is not necessary negatively colored.


As a teenager in Wisconsin, speaking very informally, I would say janky.





of extremely poor or unreliable quality.

"the software is pretty janky"

  • The phrase used by OP has no direct implication of the outcome's poor quality. Instead it has an implication of rush and lack of full commitment to do the job. – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 8:04
  • @Ister it's unclear to me how something can be done rushed and carelessly, but still have high quality. If it comes out good quality, wouldn't that just be called working efficiently? – Phoenix Oct 30 '18 at 8:06
  • Please have a look at my comment to the question itself. If someone is really good at something, they indeed do something very efficiently. Trust me, I did my math homework "on a knee" most of the time and it's quality was almost always higher than of other students' homework (at least at first two levels of education) ;-) – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 8:11

In England we can also say about a job that was done too quickly and lacks quality:

which is "to do something in the easiest, cheapest, or fastest way"


Shoot from the hip

The image is a shooter who fires a pistol as soon as possible after drawing it from a hip holster, not taking time to properly aim from eye height. One connotation of the original English prose that may not be part of the original Polish is a fight to the death but in practice, the idiom is often used outside of any competitive context.


Another answered with "cut corners". A suitable definition is in the Collins English Dictionary:

"to do something in the easiest or shortest way, especially at the expense of high standards"



shoddy immediately came to mind, and I'm surprised I didn't see it.Note I am american NOT english per definition below.

shoddy in British (ˈʃɒdɪ ) adjective -dier or -diest 1. imitating something of better quality 2. of poor quality; trashy 3. made of shoddy material noun plural -dies 4. a yarn or fabric made from wool waste or clippings 5. anything of inferior quality that is designed to simulate superior qualityWord Frequency
shoddy in British (ˈʃɒdɪ ) adjective -dier or -diest 1. imitating something of better quality 2. of poor quality; trashy 3. made of shoddy material noun plural -dies 4. a yarn or fabric made from wool waste or clippings 5. anything of inferior quality that is designed to simulate superior quality


Haste makes waste.

Haste is analogous to fast. Waste in this context means poor quality.

  • Doesn't particularly fit in the context that OP wants to use it. Consider rephrasing to fit the given example. – Freddie R Oct 29 '18 at 22:38
  • I think haste itself is the right adjective to use but the full idiom you provide has far too much negative result implied, which is not there in OP's question. – Ister Oct 30 '18 at 8:00

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