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Jury-rig, jerry-rig, jerry-built

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  • A little-used definition of jury is intended or designated for temporary use. It’s a nautical term of unknown origin, and in its early use it usually appeared in the phrase jury mast, referring to a temporary mast put up to replace one that has been lost.1 This is the source of the verb jury-rig, meaning to assemble for temporary use, and its derivative adjective jury-rigged.

    Jerry-rig is a variant spelling of jury-rig. One could call it incorrect because it entered the language several centuries after jury-rig and is obviously derived from a misspelling of the original, but it is widely used and is accepted by some dictionaries.

    It would be easier to dismiss jerry-rig as incorrect if we didn’t have the separate adjective jerry-built, which means built of bad materials. Jerry-built may or may not be etymologically related to jury-rig (its origins are mysterious), but all major dictionaries agree that jerry is the correct spelling in this case.

    Examples

    [A]bout 45 tonnes of contaminated water had been found near a desalination unit that is part of the plant’s jury-rigged emergency cooling system. [Financial Times]

    The passengers jerry-rigged the ship … by hoisting the cracked beam with a “great iron screw.” [The Salem News]

    So if the Big 12 needs OU to play on Thanksgiving Weekend the week before Bedlam … it needs to jerry-rig some kind of rivalry that makes people care. [NewsOK]

    The Libyan rebels displayed tremendous ingenuity in repairing, jury-rigging and improvising weapons of all kinds. [Field and Stream]

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    Reference

    1. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/102172 ^

    Other resources

    “Jury rig” at Wikipedia
    “A jerry-rigged expression?” at Grammarphobia

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    Comments

    1. I was always under the impression that Jerry-Rigged was a World War Two term.

    2. Meredith Griffith says:

      Yes, me too – in Foyle’s War “jerry” is used as a derogative term for the Germans.

    3. Marvin Skagerberg says:

      also, in WW2, fuel was supplied in jerry-cans. then, especially in the South Pacific, the cans were often used for many other purposes, especially “jerry-built” constructions. I wonder if this encouraged the movement from Jury-built to jerry-built.

    4. I wonder if “jerry-rigged” is not a derisive term for something built by Germans. “Jerry” is a 1940s slang word for a German. It is meant in a derogatory fashion.

    5. Mr. Jiggy Fly says:

      It is my understanding that “Jerry-rigged” was what the Allied Troops in WW2 called it when they saw instances where the Germans (Jerry’s) had rigged their equipment to “work”, presumably because of a lack of materials after supply lines had been disrupted.

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