Jerry Rigged Or Jury Rigged: Do You Know Which Is Correct?

Even native English speakers get tripped up by similar-sounding phrases.

For instance, what’s the difference between “jerry rigged” and “jury rigged”? And have you heard the phrase “jerry built”?

The key difference between jury rigged and jerry rigged, according to dictionary.com, is that when you jury rig something the emphasis is on a temporary fix, done with what you have on hand. You’re MacGyvering it.

Jerry rigging, however, is building something badly.

While some may argue that “jerry rigging” is not a real phrase but a mixed-up one, Merriam-Webster says “it is in fact fully established and has been busy in the language for more than a century, describing any number of things organized or constructed in a crude or improvised way.”

So go ahead and use jerry rigging. Just make sure you mean something that’s badly built, not something that’s temporary.

Moving on to “jerry built,” the Columbia Journalism Review says this is a newer phrase than “jerry rig” or “jerry rigging.” While “jury rigging” appeared in the English language in the 17th century, “jerry built” started being used around 1869. A jerry-built item is made cheaply or carelessly. “Jerry built” seems to have combined with “jury rigging” to form the new term “jerry rigging.”

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“Jury rigged” was purely a nautical term when it first originated in the 18th century, according to Merriam-Webster. But since then, the term has evolved to refer to any makeshift fix, not just those regarding boats and the like.

“Jury” in this usage has nothing to do with the type of 12-person jury you’ll find in a courtroom, and “rigging” doesn’t relate to fixing a case so that a jury votes a particular way.

“It’s a 15th century term that comes from the Middle English jory, as known (back then, anyway) in the phrase ‘jory sail,’ meaning ‘improvised sail,'” Merriam-Webster writes.

Rigging in a nautical sense refers to the ropes and chains on a boat. And “rig” itself “is one of those little words so short that it contains nearly infinite meanings (an early form of nanotechnology),” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Now, with jerry rigging, the origins of “jerry” aren’t clear. A misconception is that it originated with the slang term used by the Allies for Germans during WWI. But since “jerry-built” was a phrase that popped up in the late 19th century, the timeline doesn’t fit, as this is well before the Great War. (“Jerry style” was another term that seems to have come into usage around the early- to mid-1800s to refer to badly-constructed buildings. There’s also speculation it refers to the walls of Jericho (which came tumbling down) or may have come from someone’s actual name.

So you can use jerry built and jerry rigging without worrying that either word has racist connotations.

If you don’t have enough phrases floating through your head right now, here’s one more: “Jimmy rig.” This means that a fix is temporary and unlikely to work.

Have you been using jerry rigged or jury rigged correctly?