ad hoc

[ ad hok; Latin ahd hohk ]
/ æd ˈhɒk; Latin ɑd ˈhoʊk /
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for the special purpose or end presently under consideration: a committee formed ad hoc to deal with the issue.
concerned or dealing with a specific subject, purpose, or end: The ad hoc committee disbanded after making its final report.
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Origin of ad hoc

First recorded in 1550–60, ad hoc is from Latin ad hōc “for this”


ad hoc , a posteriori, a priori, ex post facto, prima facie
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does ad hoc mean?

Something ad hoc is put together on the fly for one narrow, pressing, or special purpose. For example, a government committee arranged to address one specific problem would be an ad hoc committee. More loosely, it can mean “spontaneous,” “unplanned,” or “on the spot.”

Ad hoc is one of those Latin phrases commonly found in academic, law, and government contexts. It literally means “for this (thing).”

Where does ad hoc come from?

English borrowed the Latin phrase ad hoc in the mid 1500s, when the expression was quickly being adopted into legal and judicial writings.

Ad hoc spreads as a term in such contexts in the 1800s. A Louisiana Code of Practice for civil law from 1839, for example, lists the various situations where a person, such as a minor, may be assigned what is called a curator ad hoc, a “caretaker for this purpose.” An 1869 judicial report from the state of New York, as another instance, describes forming ad hoc committees by the courts to investigate specific matters.

Around the same time, ad hoc was spreading to other areas. The phrase ad hoc hypothesis began to appear in scientific writing. An ad hoc hypothesis is basically a scientific excuse, a logical fallacy. It’s when someone makes up a new complication to brush off evidence against their claim—like if you said there’s a little green alien following you around, and when everyone asked where it was, you said that only you could see it.

Of course, not all ad hoc hypotheses are out of this world. An 1894 article on color perception points out how two of the common theories of the time relied on an extra, unproven ad hoc hypothesis about the vibration of light waves. Today, there’s even a festival dedicated to ad hoc hypotheses, where scientists can blow off steam by making stuff up.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock, proposed that ad hoc organizations had some real benefits. Riffing on political terms like democracy, Toffler popularized the word adhocracy (from a slightly earlier coinage in 1966) to describe a kind of flexible organizational structure that could replace bureaucracy.

Six years later, adhocracy was discussed in a business book aimed at administrators. An entire book on the subject followed in 1990, and the topic became popular again in 2015 as an organizational model for structuring businesses.

In computing, an ad hoc network is a network of computers temporarily connected directly to other computers without a router or hub. Ad hoc networks were discussed in a communications journal in 1994, and there is currently an entire journal dedicated to the topic.

How is ad hoc used in real life?

You’re often going to see ad hoc describing government committees and judges, which are formed for very special purposes. Most often you’ll see it preceding what it modifies, e.g., an ad hoc judge, but especially in legal settings, following it: judges ad hoc.

You’ll also see ad hoc in everyday settings, like an ad hoc train stop (unscheduled), an ad hoc job (working as needed), or an ad hoc movie set (improvised).

Ad hoc can be used to criticize an organization or event for being a little too loose or improvisational, though. The criticism is that it’s unstructured and wasn’t thought out.

More examples of ad hoc:

“The Registrar of Delhi University said on Monday that no assurance had been given or could be given by the Vice-Chancellor regarding the continuation of ad hoc teachers in the new session.”

—The Hindu, June 2018

“Mammals sleep because they hate themselves. Human intelligence evolved thanks to alcohol. Fish are stupid because they’d be too sad if they knew how boring their lives were. These are a few of the asinine arguments from BAHfest, the festival of bad ad hoc hypotheses—or as the organizers put it “a celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories.”

—David Shultz, Science, October 2017

How to use ad hoc in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ad hoc

ad hoc
/ (æd ˈhɒk) /

adjective, adverb
for a particular purpose only; lacking generality or justificationan ad hoc decision; an ad hoc committee

Word Origin for ad hoc

Latin, literally: to this
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for ad hoc

ad hoc
[ (ad hok, ad hohk) ]

A phrase describing something created especially for a particular occasion: “We need an ad hoc committee to handle this new problem immediately.” From Latin, meaning “toward this (matter).”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with ad hoc

ad hoc

For the special purpose or end at hand; also, by extension, improvised or impromptu. The term, Latin for “to this,” is most often used for committees established for a specific purpose, as in The committee was formed ad hoc to address health insurance problems. The term is also used as an adjective (An ad hoc committee was formed), and has given rise to the noun adhocism for the tendency to use temporary, provisional, or improvised methods to deal with a particular problem. [Early 1600s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.