Why Are Haphazardly Built Things Called “Jury Rigged”?
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Why Are Haphazardly Built Things Called “Jury Rigged”?


Although many describe shoddy workmanship or a hasty,
temporary repair as jerry-rigged, in its original incarnation, the term was actually jury-rigged. While jury as a noun meaning a group of peers
that decide the outcome of a legal proceeding has been in use English since the early 14th
century, by the early 17th century, sailors had taken to using jury as an adjective that
meant temporary / hastily contrived, first referring to jury-masts. It is unclear why, however, and unfortunately
all we have are speculative hypotheses with nothing in the way of evidence backing them
up. One such hypothesis is that French speaking
sailors had been describing their quick repairs as ajurie, which meant help or relief, and
English speakers mistakenly assumed they were saying jury. Perhaps slightly more plausible is that it
was originally joury mast, meaning “day mast” (from the French “jour” meaning
“a day”)- essentially a temporary mast meant to only last a short while. Yet another speculative hypothesis is that
the term came about because it took a jury of sailors to put their heads together to
come up with a way to create a usable make-shift mast. Whatever the case, sailors were calling the
temporary masts they rigged up to replace those lost in storms as jury-masts from at
least the early 17th century, with the term first appearing in Captain John Smith’s
1616 work A Description of New-England, “We had reaccommodated her a Iury mast, and the
rest, to returne for Plimouth.” He later used the term again in his The General
History of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, published in 1624. Captain Smith’s 1627 Seaman’s Grammar
also explicitly gives us a proper definition, A Iury Mast, that is, when a Mast is borne
by the boord, with Yards, Roofes, Trees, or what they can, spliced or fished together
they make a Iury-mast. By the middle of the 17th century, jury was
being appended to a variety of other words to describe something hastily put together,
as well as to give a humorous connotation, such as this from Third Advice (1667): Guard thy Posterior least all be gone, Though
Jury-Masts, tho’hast Jury-buttocks none. As for the exact expression in question, jury-rigged
first appeared in 1788 in Newte’s A Tour in England & Scotland with “ships to be
jury rigged; that is, to have smaller masts . . . than would be required for actual service.” As for jerry-rigging, it may be that jury
morphed into jerry via people just thinking that’s what the expression was, though this
isn’t clear. Jerry-X first popped up around 1856 in the
form of jerry-built, more or less meaning “built of poor quality materials.” A decade or so later, the variant jerrry-builder
made its debut to describe the makers of such product. In nearly all of these terms’ earliest usages,
they were referring to poorly constructed homes or buildings. For instance, in the 1881 work Every Man his
own Mechanic:”It is unfortunately too often the habit of builders—or rather jerry builders—to
use the worst possible description of bricks.” Unfortunately for connecting the dots, there
was not any associated jury-built term known at this time, meaning it’s possible jerry-built
rose up independently. It’s also worth noting that jerry-built
and jury-rig have slightly different connotations- the former meaning something was purposefully
built of poor quality materials and the latter meaning something poorly built out of necessity
in a pinch. Given the lack of a clear etymology on this,
speculative origins abound. Some hypothesize jerry in this sense may have
devolved from a weak and unlikable character in the play The Mayor of Garratt (1820) whom
the author, Samuel Foote, named Jerry Sneak. Another hypothesis is that it’s a shortened
version of “Jericho.” Perhaps the leading hypothesis is that there
was some building company that included the name Jerry in their business name and did
shoddy work. In this case, it’s possibly the previous
similar sounding jury-x terms then inspired the ironic connection to the name Jerry in
the company name. However, as with the ultimate root of “jury-mast,”
these hypotheses are pure speculation with no hard evidence backing them up.

100 Comments

  • Paolo G

    It's actually jerry-built and jury-rigged.Two totally different things.
    Once again 'muricans struggle with the English language. Like the classic "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less".

  • Joseph Staton

    I've never heard something called "Jerry rigged", I've always heard "jury rigged". I prefer the more accurate term "half ass", which begs the question; does half ass mean half bad, or half good? Would "whole ass" be perfect, or total crap?

  • Jonathan Lambert

    I have a question – surely it should be 'cheap at twice the price' not 'cheap at half the price' so how did that phrase become common?

  • Gary Cooper

    “Jerry” in “Jerry built” is hypothesized to come from “Jericho”? I guess the implication is that the walls of Jericho fell down due to poor construction.

  • T.D. Williamson

    Is it possible that "jury" was connected in some way to "Jewry" from the common Medieval and Renaissance stereotype of Jews as stingy; akin to how the similarly-stereotyped Scots were associated with low,-adhesive tape (Scotch Tape)? associated with

  • Andrew Rothman

    Fascinating! I’ve always wondered about that phrase. I assumed it was “Gerry rigged”… a WWII dig at German soldiers. Guess I was way off!

  • luciferangelica

    i thought it was jury rigged, but people kept telling me it was jerry and that meant black people, and i thought maybe, cause people also say things are n-word rigged, and there's jerry curls and in syracuse ny we have a statue downtown called the jerry rescue where it looks like they're trying to grab a black guy but it is said they are rescuing him from slavery. idk

  • Richard Smith

    In the south, I would argue that it has a connection to 'jerry curl', as there is a much less nice way to say 'jerry rigged' here. And no, I don't condone that behavior.

  • irishmauddib

    Viewer question: Do pigeons explode when they eat things like alka seltzer or bread soda in large quantities? Was just listening to Tom Lehrers "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" and I remembered I wanted to ask this question someday.

  • William Bertels

    I had heard Jerry-Rigged referred to Germans in wartime having an undeniable knack for repairing equipment with scrap and odd parts.

  • Adriana Zea-Smith

    Another great video. I then watched an old one about why we say Ker-nel for 'Colonel' and it got me wondering… Why do Brits say 'Left-tenant' for Lieutenant?

  • Man Beadle

    There's this other guy on a channel called TopTenz that looks and sounds exactly like you, he calls himself Simon too. Fucking weird, man.

  • Prjndigo

    lorry was originally used to describe carts with bulk loads strapped on top. It isn't a modern word and may be the one that "jury" goes back to since verbal language is manipulated by accent and the common cold.

    Would make sense if they "lorry rigged" tied on a mast. Probably lost with the ages now due to the internet being full of google educated ignorant people.

  • John Chalinder

    My father told me that Jerry Rigged came about during WWII to describe something built by Germans; and may have been spelled Gerry Built.
    But, then; my father told many a tale under the influence of Irish cough syrup (whiskey)…
    so, don't sue me if this isn't true…

  • Caitlin Serviss

    I've had this question for a long time and can't get a lot of answers by looking around the internet that make sense or have an explanation so I was hoping this channel could help me out? How did women deal with periods before the invention of pads? And how did women deal with children before the invention of modern diapers or cloth diapers?

  • Squid Lips

    The theory I've heard is that Jerry-rigged was used by WW2 soldiers to mock Germans soldiers for doing the very kind of thing we use the term for today

  • Jedediah Klusman

    I was told that it came about during wwII. Jerry being slang for Germans and that Jerry rigged is what the allies called boobie traps

  • chappytk

    "Lury" is not the word, even in olde English. Otherwise great video. Never knew Plymouth had an older spelling.

  • President Michael

    I did not realize the term was that old. I always assumed that it was Gerry-Rigged and was derived from Gerrymandering.

  • PEG2002

    I think that jerry rigged should mean rigged by one person and jury rigged is rigged by 2+ people and rigged meaning had no other options, while built would mean intentionally crappy.

  • Patrick Aycock

    The original question in this video was "who was Jerry in the term jerry-rigged". This term was used by Allied troops during WW2. Today we use the term IED, pre-WW2 we used booby-trapped. I learned this from a survivor of an Japanese concentration camp. Jerry refers to the Germans.

  • M. H.

    why is he showing a half timbered house at 3:33 while talking about poorly constructed houses? Half timbered house belong to the oldest and sturdiest houses in Europe. While it is true, that the image shows a very dirty one, I am reasonably sure, it is also a very old one… therefore it is very unlikely, that it is poorly constructed!

  • Carl Scott Amos

    It was passed down to me from fellow Veterans in the Navy; that 'Gerry-Rigged' was taking about German repairs to their equipment during WWII.

  • Salt Lick

    Never heard of jury-rigged except for a rigged jury!
    It's always been jerry-rigged! Because Jerry always does the rigging!!😎

  • puddingpocket34

    so I hate to be the one to clear this up but Jerry-rigged is the same as n*gger-rigged. Both Jerry and N*gger are slurs for black people in america. Granted no one uses Jerrry that way anymore.

  • Man from Nantucket

    I thought it was called Gerry rigged because that's what American soldiers called improvised weapons/material built by the Germans (called Gerrys) in WWII

  • Victor Pena

    I always thought "jerry rigged" was one of those terms that cane from American soldiers in WWII. Having the same connotation but it referring to German built weapons and traps in the field as the term jerry was a slur for Germans. In the field one works with what they have to get the job done and things are usually built haphazardly or from poor materials. I am surprised that the term may go back much farther than the 1940's. Interesting.

  • Jim Schwartz

    My uncle used a different phrase than "jury rigged"; his phrase was something that some sensitive people today might consider offensive.

  • Bill Antalek jr

    Thanks for this post. I always assumed the "jerry" was a dig at Germans who were also called Jerry's. Hence the "Jerry Can" for storing water and gasoline they invented. But it never made sense since the general consensus is you may dislike Nazis, but they are world class engineers. So far from shoddy work..

  • lochinvar00465

    I find it worthy to note that according to the "historical account" in the Bible, the walls of Jericho couldn't withstand the sonic vibrations of horns. Sounds like "Jerry built" to me in a most extreme connotation of the definition.

  • Milton Roberts

    I seem to recall my Dad saying "jury-rigged" and "jerry-built" and he acquired his slang vocabulary before WW 2 and I think jerry for Germans was mainly a Brit term. The former meant improvisation and the latter shoddily built.

  • kefkaZZZ

    I was long under the assumption that "Jury Rigged" literally meant to rig a Jury in your favor, referring specifically to legal proceedings. While contrasting, I believed that "Jerry Rigged" meant something similar to "McGuyvering" and was born out of the First World War, with the Germans being the "Jerry" in this case. Also, I have been quite upset with the makers of Fallout New Vegas for using Jury Rigging to describe a perk which allows you to put different pieces of equipment together in order to repair them. It turns out I am wrong.

  • Anon Ymous

    Today I Found Out
    Jury-rigged comes from "rigged juries". Where the jury was rigged to ensure a specific outcome. (Think mobsters)
    Jerry-rigged comes from the world wars 1 & 2 when tunnels and buildings were "jerry rigged" with explosives so that when a soldier entered, a trip wire or trip mecanism detonated explosives, killing soldiers. These sometimes creative rigged traps were "Jerry rigged".
    "Watch it soldier, that entrance may be Jerry rigged".
    The very early uses of similar terms are unrelated to the modern terms.

  • MosoKaiser

    Hey, turns out that thanks for Fallout New Vegas, I learned the term correctly from the start! 😀 "Jerry-rigging" just sounds odd…

  • Lo-Res Gamer

    It isn't "jerry rigged", it's "Jerry Built", a land-lubber's version of Jury Rigged. People started mixing the two up…Also, I suspect "Jerry" in this context was the anti-German pejorative used in WW 2

  • Robert O'Malley

    When I was a kid, I was told it was gerry rigged because in ww2 the German soldiers had to fix their vehicles and equipment the best they could with shortages of parts

  • Ryben Flynn

    "jerry" was also slang for German soldiers during the war. Back in the 50's and 60's there was also another name for what you are talking about that today you would be called a racist.

  • TheLoneRideR

    I always thought it dated from world war II, in that people occupied by the Germans had to get by with makeshift stuff during wartime… no idea it went back so far as the 17th or 18th centuries…

  • Matthew Ramada

    Whenever in etymological doubt: if a word sounds like something else in English, and that seems like it could make sense, OR, there's some word in French that is distantly related, it's probably from the French.

  • pmw8000

    I always held the term "jerrycan" as in linguistic proximity, though not exactly the same, to jerry-rigged and jerry-built. Jerry can seems to have a reliable etymology, and is a reverse-engineered German made 5-gallon-ish military gas/water can. The object being a clever German portable, temporary source of gas or water, stored for emergency use in the field or other disasters. Thanks for enlightening me ("I'ze Emanatin'!") – now I know that jury-rigged, jerry-built, and jerrycan have coincidentally broadly similar contextual usages which probably developed independently of each other.

  • Justin Fabricius

    I always thought this had to do with Jerry-Mandering, where district lines where drawn by the incumbent party in a nonsensical way to manipulate voting for representatives.

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