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Taken from:

»Haste nichts, dann machste halt was«, darf dagegen der norddeutsche Internet-User schriftlich unwidersprochen behaupten.
[emphasis added]

I suppose it's a regional or colloquial expression. It seems to mean

"mach etwas!"

as in "simply/just do something!"

Is my understanding correct?

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Yes you're right (Ignore in braces, just a few more characters needed...) – chill0r Mar 30 '14 at 19:18
@Wrzlprmft: it comes from, in the second half of the box at the bottom of page. A google search also turns up hundreds of results. – karoshi Mar 30 '14 at 20:10
@Karoshi I took the freedom to add the link you provided to your question with a small excerpt from it. If you disagree with these edits, feel free to roll back using the revision history – Vogel612 Mar 31 '14 at 11:51
up vote 4 down vote accepted

To give some context, it could be in contrast to the well known phrase "Haste was, biste was" = "Hast du was, [dann] bist du was" = "if you have [stuff], then you are something" = "Wealth bestows status".

In contrast, "Haste nichts, dann machste halt was" = "Hast Du nichts, dann machst du halt was" = "if you have nothing, you just do something".

"Haste was, biste was" also seems to be a song by Tic Tac Toe.

At any rate, I think here the point is just that this "Haste"/"Biste" for "Hast Du"/"Bist Du" is fairly well established, even in writing.

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Machste was kann übrigens nicht nur mit "do" sondern auch mit "make" im Sinne von "create" übersetzt werden. – Vogel612 Apr 2 '14 at 22:58

Yes, it's correct. "Machste" is short für "Machst du". "Halt" is sort of generic, simply/just is a good translation.

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I'd be interested into a context when to use it. Doesn't sound very idiomatic to me. – Em1 Mar 30 '14 at 19:38
@Em1: It's not idiomatic, it's just a short form. Example: X complains about something, Y says "dann machste halt was (dagegen)" (then just do something about it). The shortening is common in colloquial speech, hast du -> haste, gehst du -> gehste, etc. – dirkt Mar 30 '14 at 22:47
Well, short forms and idioms are not mutually exclusive. I'd consider "tu was" more common. However, from what I learned searching the Internet, the phrase in question seems to be common in Northern parts of Germany and I can't speak for that region. – Em1 Apr 1 '14 at 8:51

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