Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I was struck by the following sentence from the entry on baling >> bailing.
“These days, ba(i)ling wire is often used metaphorically to describe how a jury-rigged solution is held together.”
I grew up describing a device that is kept running via scrounged parts and inventiveness as “jerry-rigged”; however in recent years I have noticed that “jury-rigged” is a common alternative. At about the same time as I noticed the new usage, I came across two opposing etymologies/usage prescriptions:
1. the jerry in “jerry-rigged” is a derogatory term for gypsies and “jerry-rigged” is a comment on their supposedly shoddy workmanship. The phase is thus racist and right-thinking people should avoid the slur by using “jury-rigged” instead.
2. “jerry-rigged” is actually derived from nautical terminology; moreover jury-rigging refers to a serious crime and to use the phrase to refer to an ungainly, but workable, solution is a serious insult to our legal system and a perversion of truth, justice and the american way.
I favor the second usage, but both explanations smack of hyper-correction and I have actual evidence for neither etymology.
A quick google search turned up a few more definitions….
In a discussion on c|net a poster explained …
“The etymology isn’t obscure at all. Jury-rigged is a bastardized copy of jerry-rigged. Someone without understanding the source wrote down what they heard and altered it in the process, jerry-rigged came first and was used by allied troops during World War II to refer to temporary fixes becuase as the war ground to a finish the “jerries” (Germans) were often forced to build makeshift devices because they couldn’t get supplies. As their positions were overrun by the allies those makeshift contraptions were examined and the term “jerry-rigged” was coined as a way of describing them.
Trying to say that it should be “jury-rigged” instead of “jerry-rigged” is like trying to say that “bare with me” is preferable to “bear with me”.”
Urbandictionary.com has 6 definitions of jerry-rig. 4 advance the “improvised solution” sense (one citing the “sloppy germans” etymology and one the “temporary mast” origin), 1 defines it as “to build or construct in a hasty haphazard manner” and 1 elaborates on the ethic slur idea by suggesting that the original term was N——- rigged and adds monkey-rigged as another synonym. There are 2 definitions of Jury-rig – one claiming improvised solution, one pointing the reader to jerry-rig.
Webster’s 9th and the OED agree that, as the estimable Paul Brians explains
“Although their etymologies are obscure and their meanings
overlap, these are two distinct expressions. Something poorly
built is “jerry-built.” something rigged up temporarily in a
makeshift manner with materials at hand, often in an ingenious
manner, is “jury-rigged.” “Jerry-built” always has a negative
connotation, whereas one can be impressed by the cleverness of
a jury-rigged solution. Many people cross-pollinate these two
expressions and mistakenly say “jerry-rigged” or “jury-built.””
Merriam-Webster’s LearnersDictionary.com is the odd-man out, hybridizing the two senses in it’s definition…
jerry-rigged: made or formed in a hasty or careless manner : poorly constructed or designed
p.s. There is a site called juryrigged.com that offers to solve your legal woes. I dare not speculate which definition they have in mind.
And here, finally, are some sightings (citings?) from the wild…
“Yet Cheney’s operation and Rumsfeld’s jerry-rigged intelligence shop kept insisting that the CIA put its seal of approval on the Atta-in-Prague story and the yellowcake uranium one, too.”
[Sidney Blumenthal, Surrealpolitik, Salon, June 21, 2006 p3, 5th paragraph]
“Of course, if by November election time it doesn’t look like U.S. troops will come home soon, the president’s Bosnia policy will be revealed for what it is: a jerry-rigged, politically tuned deal that puts U.S. forces at the mercy of events that can spin out of control at any time. ”
[Kim R. Holmes, Ph. D., Jerry-Rigged Foreign Policy, The Heritage Foundation, June 6, 1996; accessed June 21 2006 at http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ED060696a.cfm]
“This is a post that presents evidence to back up my claim that there is evidence of jury-rigged design in nature … Perhaps one of the most famous examples of how evolution does not produced designed, but “jury-rigged” traits is the panda’s thumb. ... The five fingers are made of the same bones our (humans and most other vertebrates) fingers are made of. The thumb is constructed by enlarging a few bones that form the wrist in other species. The muscles that operate it are “rerouted” muscles present in the hand of vertabrates (see S.J. Gould book “The Panda’s Thumb” for an engaging discussion of this case). Again, this is not good design.”
“Is it reasonable to jury-rig a diffuser for the built-in flash on a
Canon 10D? I know it works because I tried with the cut-off bottom
from a foam cup. ”
The last two uses are quite clear as to which sense of this idiom complex they mean. But the two quotes about foreign policy are amibugious. Do they mean that our foreign policy is shoddily constructed (as the OED says “built to sell but not to last”) or improvised from parts on hand in an ungainly fashion?
Thanks for the thoughtful, lengthy post and accompanying evidence.
The OED dates the earliest citation of “jury-rigged” to 1751 (in nautical usage). In a quick search, I wasn’t able to come up with examples of “jerry-rigged” from before about 1950. And Brians’ explanation that “jerry-rigged” is the result of crossbreeding between “jerry-built” and “jury-rigged” makes sense; “jerry-rigged” must be the innovation.
The OED doesn’t have an entry for “jerry-rigged,” so dating its first appearance is difficult. I wish I had Ben Zimmer’s access to huge periodical databases—it’d be interesting to see whether “jerry-rigged” made any appearances before WWII. If it started entering the mainstream a few years after the war, that might help to explain why many people are attached to the “jerry=German” etymology. I’m a bit skeptical about claims that “German” had anything to do with it, but the possibility that soldiers started the phrase as a self-conscious pun probably shouldn’t be ruled out.
(An aside: 1950 often seems like a wall when I’m trying to trace the origins of eggcornish phrases. I wonder whether anyone has ever written at length about how the 1950s appear to have been a period in which newish words and phrases developed and/or spread very quickly. I would guess that WWII, the flight to urban areas (and the attendant depopulation of the countryside), the building of highways, and the rise of television all contributed. Someone must have looked at this; an in-depth study of that decade as a neologistic incubator might be really fascinating.)
Like you, I grew up hearing “jerry-rigged” and not “jury-rigged.” I wasn’t aware of “jury-rigged” until my late teenage years at the earliest, and my impression is that “jerry-rigged” remains well ahead of “jury-rigged” in the daily speech of Californians. The situation is different in writing, but even there “jerry-rigged” makes a strong showing. A check of books.google.com shows that “jury-rigged” remains ahead of “jerry-rigged” by about a 2.5 to 1 margin in books published in the last ten years. I change “jerry-” to “jury-” when I see it in students’ papers, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a student use the “standard” form. (My spellchecker flags “jerry-rigged” but doesn’t offer an alternative.) I empathize with Paul Brians’ desire to keep the useful distinction between “jerry-built” and “jury-rigged” alive. But the ambiguous “jerry-rigged” is clearly here to stay, and its wide acceptance as a standard form seems inevitable.
OED has jerry-built as coming from 1869 (well before WWII).
The New Yorker magazine loves this one; see for example http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/a … talk_agger (“Over the years, she’s seen some crazy jerry-rigs: bungee cords, AstroTurf, plastic piping.) and http://www.newyorker.com/critics/conten … sk_skyline (“Not Gehry-rigged”, a lame pun on the architect’s name).
Personally, growing up in England. I’d only come across jury-rigged and jerry-built (and jerry-can, which folk etymology DOES say comes from “German”, from the pressed steel water cans used by the German Afrika Corps), and never jerry-rigged until reading this topic. My suspicion that jury-built is the solidly British usage and jerry-rigged is rare on the right-hand side of the Atlantic is strenghtened by a quick-and-dirty check on the (London) Daily Telegraph website, which finds 20 usages of “jury-rigged” in the paper in the past two years and only five of “jerry-rigged”, at least one of which is a misuse where the writer actually meant “rigged” as in rig the vote …
“Don’t think for a minute that there won’t be lawyers writing songs, having their buddies perform them, and putting them on YouTube, jerry rigging the number of views via any number of easy to do processes and then suing YouTube over it.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.j … ogle10.xml 10 October 2006
Last edited by MartyArtie (2006-11-23 21:55:05)