What is stopgap, as in "a stopgap measure"?
A look up any dictionary will yield you something, but let me find a way for you to remember it.
There's a leak in the pipe in the garden. Instead of replacing the pipe with a new one, you fetch some tape to paper over the crack. The crack in the pipe is a "gap", make the tape a "stop" and you have a stopgap – something to "stop" a "gap".
Taping over the leak may work for now but you know it's still a leaking pipe. Some time in future, perhaps soon, it'll start leaking water again. So therefore, the tape is a stopgap measure, a measure that is temporary, expedient and very probably not the best solution, or substitute to be exact.
Stopgap reminds me of makeshift, a word obviously formed from "make" and "shift". Shift means change. Makeshift hence means to make a change and make it work.
It may not work the best but it will do under the circumstances, for lack of a better alternative if you will. Think of the term "make do". It means to make do – make something work, manage with what's available right now. Same thing: it probably won't work (that well), but you make it work nevertheless.
In short, both stopgap and makeshift means a substitute you make do with on a temporary basis (to be replaced if and when a better alternative is found).
And according to my research, stopgap has been in the English language since 1684, makeshift since 1683.
Make do? This is "attested from 1899", according to Online Etymology Dictionary, but I suspect the idea has been there for ever.
Anyways, here are examples of "stopgap" and "makeshift" in the news.
Stopgap example 1:
Once dismissed asa stopgap figure, al-Maliki has developed into a national leader, threatening the Supreme Council's ambition to win the top job after next year's elections.
- Shiite split could complicate US security pact, AP, October 16, 2008.
It is almost as if Paulson and Bernanke have created a plan that will see them through the next few months without concern for the long-term effects of their actions. "I regard this as nothing more than a stopgap measure to get us through the election," says S&P's Wyss.
- $700bn won't save America from a slump, The Observer, September 28, 2008.
Makeshift example 1:
"It was apparent that the murder suspect, alone in his cell, had used a piece of his shirt as a makeshift ligature around his neck," Charlie Beck, chief of detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department, told a news conference at police headquarters Saturday.
- Japanese businessman's murder case ends in his suicide, LA Daily News, October 11, 2008.
Monday was International Car Free Day. Many cities in China called residents to choose public transportation means instead of driving their own cars. Beijing was no exemption. It just stopped banning vehicles with odd and even-numbered license plates on alternate days from Sunday, but discussion aroused by the ban is not over. Was it the only way to ease Beijing's traffic jam or only a makeshift solution which will make things worse?
- CRI News, September 22, 2008.