This one’s for you, DIY fans. Jury-rigged means something was assembled quickly with the materials on hand. Jerry-built means it was cheaply built. Jerry-rigged is a combination of these two words. Jerry-rigged is a relatively new word. Many people consider it to be an incorrect version of jury-rigged, but it’s widely used in everyday speech.
The word jury has a few different meanings. It can be a group of people that decides the verdict in a legal case or a group of people who judge a contest. In the nautical world, it means makeshift or temporary.
The word rig is also a nautical term. As a verb, it means “to fit a ship or mast with the necessary elements (such as shrouds and sails).” More generally, it also means to assemble. Together, these words become jury-rigged.
A jury-rig is a temporary solution that’s built to replace something that’s been broken or lost overboard. The word can also be used as a verb. For example, “She jury-rigged a new topmast after hers broke in the wind.” Although this expression is rooted in the nautical world, it can refer to any makeshift rig: “He jury-rigged a raincoat from garbage bag in the garage.”
Jerry-built is an adjective. It describes something that’s cheaply or flimsily built. It can also mean developed in a haphazard way. The word can also be used as a verb: “He jerry-built the house, and now, the roof is leaking.”
Here’s where jerry-built differs slightly from jury-rigged: A jury-rig is a temporary solution created with the materials at hand. In some cases, a jury-rig may be poorly put together, but that sense isn’t part of the definition. Jury-rigs can be clever, innovative, and impressive. If something is jerry-built, however, it’s poorly constructed by definition.
The word jerry-rigged is a mixture of jury-rigged and jerry-built. Some etymologists claim that jerry-rig is just a misspelling of jury-rig. In either case, the word jerry-rigged still isn’t recognized by many dictionaries.
In everyday speech, the word jerry-rig is widely used. It’s sometimes used in journalism, as well. Its definition is the same as jury-rigged. For example: “She didn’t know how she was going to get home with all of those groceries, but then, using a few old scraps she found, she jerry-rigged a trailer for the back of her bicycle.”