“Jury-rigged” vs. “Jerry-rigged”

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 or poorly built. Jerry-rigged is a variant of jury-rigged, and it may have been influenced by jerry-built. While some people consider it to be an incorrect version of jury-rigged, it’s widely used, especially in everyday speech.

What does jury-rigged mean?

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. Via French, this jury goes back to a Latin verb meaning “to swear (an oath),” also seen in words like perjury.

But, in the nautical world, jury means “makeshift” or “temporary.” The origin of this jury isn’t exactly known.

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 means “to assemble.” Together, these words become jury-rigged by the late 18th century.

A jury-rig, as a noun, 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, MacGyver-like fix: “He jury-rigged a raincoat from garbage bag in the garage.”

What does jerry-built mean?

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 (present form, jerry-build): “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.

What does jerry-rigged mean?

The word jerry-rigged may be a blend of jury-rigged and jerry-built, or it may be a variant pronunciation or spelling of jury-rigged. (Jerry and jury do sound very close.) Jerry-rigged is found by the late 19th-century.

In everyday speech, the word jerry-rig is widely used, though some sticklers insist that it’s incorrect. 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.”

Jerry-built, jerry-build, and jerry-builder are all found in the 19th century.

Is the jerry in jerry-built or jerry-rigged offensive?

It’s sometimes thought that the jerry in jerry-built or jerry-rigged comes from Jerry as used as British slur against Germans during Word War I and II. This disparaging term is real, a pun on the name Jerry and the pronunciation of the first part of German. This insult, however, is found by 1915, which is sometime after we first find evidence for jerry-built and jerry-rigged in the 19th century.

So, who (or what) is jerry? We’re just not sure. But, we hope these don’t remember some poor, shoddy craftsman named Jerry (a nickname for such names as Jeremy, Jerome, or Jeremiah) for all time.

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