General English

Information & Library Science

  • verb to make something from whatever materials are available rather than using the proper ones
  • verb to carry out an activity using one’s initiative rather than planning it carefully in advance

Media Studies

  • verb to perform or compose something, especially a sketch, play, song, or piece of music, without any preparation or set text to follow

Origin & History of “improvise”

Etymologically, if you improvise something, it is because it has not been ‘provided’ for in advance. The word comes via French improviser from the Italian adjective improvviso ‘extempore’, a descendant of Latin imprōvīsus ‘unforeseen’. this in turn was formed from the negative prefix in- and the past participle of prōvīdere ‘foresee’ (source of English provide). The earliest recorded use of the verb in English is by Benjamin Disraeli in Vivian Grey 1826: ‘He possessed also the singular faculty of being able to improvise quotations’. (The closely related improvident ‘not providing for the future’ (16th c.) preserves even more closely the sense of its Latin original.).