On the Fly – Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

On the fly means doing something quickly, without stopping or with very little preparation. If you’ve ever had to change plans or make a snap decision when circumstances abruptly changed, that’s doing things on the fly.

It has origins in the agile world of baseball. This idiom figuratively embodies our fast-paced lives because that’s what idioms are. Idioms are non-literal expressions we use in conversations. They enrich communication by adding color, depth, and cultural context.

Please keep reading if you want to learn how to use this idiom in a sentence, its origins, and its true meaning.

On the Fly Meaning Explained

On the Fly – Meaning and Origin

The idea behind the idiom on the fly is doing something spontaneously, without any planning, and usually under time constraints. It’s all about adaptability and quick thinking.

In publishing, I sometimes have to make last-minute changes on the fly because no two books are the same, and things move fast in my world. I can’t afford to wait too long to make a color choice or look at a scene change request from my editor.

Is It on the Fly or on-the-fly?

Generally, it’s on the fly when using it in a basic sentence. But there’s still a place for the hyphenated on-the-fly, mostly as an adjective, like on-the-fly adjustments or on-the-fly translations. Here, the idiom is modifying the noun that comes after it.

On the Fly Origin and Etymology

Most sources say that the expression on the fly originated with American baseball and came into use in the mid-1800s. A fly in American baseball is a ball hit by the batter into the air without the ball touching the ground.

Over time, the idiom has evolved to describe doing something quickly, without stopping, or while in motion in general day-to-day activities. It often implies a sense of improvisation, quick reaction, or adjustment to an ongoing situation.

On the Fly Synonyms

  • On the spur of the moment
  • On the bounce
  • Off-the-cuff
  • At the drop of a hat
  • Impromptu

Examples of On the Fly in a Sentence

On the Fly – Meaning and Origin 1 1

  • “Okay,” he said, clearing his throat. “I wrote this poem on the fly, so don’t be too harsh on it.”
  • We had to make decisions on the fly during the writing conference.
  • “Let’s adjust the strategy on the fly,” the coach suggested.
  • The chef made a substitute dish on the fly when some main ingredients ran out.
  • I love that she’s great at offering on-the-fly solutions to complex problems.
  • Our trip was totally unplanned! We even chose the destination on the fly.
  • Sometimes, the best moments are captured on the fly, without any preparation at all.
  • Being a parent has taught me to make quick and easy meals on the fly.
  • They drafted the contract on the fly to meet the urgent deadline.
  • That new app offers on-the-fly translations for travelers.

Parting Thoughts

On the fly is an idiom that embodies the art of spontaneous action, quick thinking, and adaptability, often under time constraints. Whether adjusting a baseball strategy or making swift decisions in everyday life, this phrase symbolizes our ability to respond dynamically to changing circumstances.

It’s a testament to language’s vibrant and ever-evolving nature, where idioms like on the fly add depth and color to our daily conversations. In a fast-paced world, mastering this idiom allows us to navigate unexpected challenges with finesse and flexibility. Now that you’re a pro with this idiom, check out hundreds of others on our site!

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