Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Grammar

Jerry-Rig or Jury-Rig? Get Your Phrases Straight!

If something is put together quickly or at the last minute, is it a jerry-rig or jury-rig? There seems to be a mix of two different expressions.

Two similar but different phrases have led to the confusion over whether jerry-rig or jury-rig is correct when it comes to something improvised.

I always heard what sounded like jerry-rig to explain such things.

But it turns out that’s not what the correct phrase is.

Jury-rig

Jury-rig can be a noun or a verb, and it refers to either the makeshift repairs made with tools and materials at hand or the act of making such repairs.

It’s not certain where the phrase come from. But Wikipedia has two suggestions:

The first is that it came into use as “a corruption of joury mast, a temporary mast on an old ship.

The second is that it sprang from the Latin word adjutare, which means “to aid,” via the Old French word ajurie, which means “help” or “relief.”

So where’d the jerry version come from? It seems to be a mixup with a completely different phrase.

Jerry-built

Jerry-built is an adjective that refers to something that is “badly or hastily built with materials of poor quality.”

The origin of this phrase is a bit mysterious as well. The Online Etymology Dictionary claims it came into use in about 1856 in Liverpool and could refer to the male nickname Jerry, a name of a character in Foote’s The Mayor of Garret. It could also have come as a play of the same jury in jury-rig.

Other sources suggest it could have referred to the name of a firm of builders who might have been known for poor-quality work or that it could have referred to the walls of Jericho, which, according to Joshua 6:20, fell at the sound of Joshua’s trumpets.

While both refer to something that’s makeshift, the connotation jerry-built seems to be of lesser quality but more permanent in intention, while jury-rig seems to refer to something built more in a hurry but to be used for a more temporary basis.

1 Comment

  1. I always thought it was a sort of racist remark with “Jerry” meaning German.

    However, the only version of this I ever heard growing up wasn’t either of your options. Remember, it was 1950. In my family, and in my husband’s family (as I later learned), it was N*****-rigged. Kids also sang ring-around-the-rosie using the N word: “Last one down’s a n***** baby”. Many times, changing times are a good thing.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.