Jerry, Jury, or Jimmy rigged??

Have you been in a conversation lately and heard any rendition of jury-rigged? I was in a conversation the other day when I heard “jimmy rigged” for the first time, so I decided to figure out which one is right …

and discovered the saying has quite the storied history. Turns out “jury rigged” was a sailing term that most likely originated near or before the 17th century. When a mast was damaged, due to a storm, battle, or wear-and-tear, it would need to be “jury-rigged” back into working condition. The connection between the word and sailing itself is unclear, but perhaps “injury” combined with “rigged” has some credence. Hmmm, I always thought it derived from a rigged jury. “The jury was rigged and so is this contraption.”

While searching for the missing USS Conestoga (AT-54) southeast of Hawaii, the R-14 lost her powerplant. As repairs were unsuccessful, her crew rigged a jury sail, made of canvas battery deck covers, to the periscope and sailed her to Hilo. She arrived there on 15 May 1921, after five days under sail. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Kbh3rd

The alternative term “jerry rigged” found its footing in World War II. To keep equipment functional toward the end of the war, the axis would oftentimes resort to scavenging for parts. British troops referred to a German as a Jerry. Thus, the term “jerry rigged” was embraced to refer to patchwork jobs.

The new-age version of this reference would be “jimmy rigged.” This term, according to Urban Dictionary, is a cast off of “jury rigged” and denotes that the fixed-up contraption will most likely not work.

What’s your preference? Jimmy, jury, or jerry?

  1. I am assuming Jimmy rigged (valid as your background on it is) is a much more “politically correct” term than Jury rigged or Jerry rigged. I also, thought Jury rigged meant fixing the Jury in a case to ones favor and that is were it came from.

  2. Sue Reese says:

    They mean 2 different things, jury rigged means to fix the outcome- as in rigging a jury. Jerry rigger is to patchwork spare parts together to get something to work.

  3. Deb Fleming says:

    Hhhmmmm…interesting. I have always heard it jury rigged. My Dad used that term and he was one of those guys that could fix just about anything. Born in 1932 to a poor Kansas farmer, they grew up making do and finding creative ways to fix things or restore functionality when whatever parts and materials normally required to make the repair were unavailable. I have never heard jimmy or jerry rigged.

  4. Dianne Nixon says:

    As someone who was an Army brat, my family used jerry-rigged; we lived in Germany in the 60’s so we knew the origin of the word. But I’ve also used jury-rigged, like others I thought it had to do with court. But I like the (in)jury rigged mast description better. As for jimmy-rigged? I like McGyvering.

  5. President People says:

    I’ve always known it as jimmy-rigged. Before today, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard jerry-rigged or possibly jury-rigged.

    My mom usually says it; she grew up in south Jersey (born in the mid-60’s). I’ve heard some pretty funny things from down there.

    • Melynda Parks says:

      Me Too!!! I’ve only heard jimmy-rigged and i grew up in South Jersey (Salem County – close to Cowtown) in the 1970’s -80’s. It seems the terminology used may be regional.
      I’ve never heard jerry rigged or jury rigged unitil now 🙂

    • Dave says:

      South jersey!! Its taylor ham not pork roll 😀😀 guess where i am from.

  6. Browlry says:

    The “jury” in “jury-rigged” refers to a “jory sail”, or makeshift sail. “Jury-rigged” means something constructed as a temporary measure with the materials on hand. This term goes back to 1788. “Jerry-built” has a different origin and goes back to 1859; it just means poorly or shoddily built. “Jerry-rigged” is most likely an amalgam of the two that appeared around 1959, not during WWII. This perhaps resulted from confusing about the word “jury.” “Jimmy-rig” is a variation of both of these and has not come in to wide use, according to ngram.

    View the ngram here:

    Other sources on this StackExchange:

  7. Alygant says:

    Thank you Browlry for that info! Interesting!

    As far as your original question, I bet it has something to do with what area of the country you were brought up in. ie. Some parts of the country people say, “Pill bug” other parts say, “Sow bug”, still others grew up calling them “Rollie Pollies”. I have grown up with “Jimmy-rigged” & never heard of “Jury/Jory-rigged”, & rarely remember hearing “Jerry-rigged”, but only once I was older & have relocated a number of times to different states. President People – I was also born in the 60s so maybe it has to do with generation as well.

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  9. Heather Garcia says:

    I have heard and used “Jimmy-rigged” my entire life, and I have lived all over the U.S. from Washington to Alabama and every where in between, so I assume it’s not a geography thing. Last night I heard them say “Jimmy rigged” in the movie The Heart of the Sea, and it made me wonder where the term came from if they were using it in a movie set in the early 1800’s. I came across this feed and was shocked to see the terms Jury rigged and Jerry rigged as variations of Jimmy rigged. Interesting info, thanks for the history on it.

  10. Cookie says:

    I had always used Jimmy rigged until my brother in law said that was not correct that is is jerry rigged. The funny part is we are both from Central Iowa. He is about 12 years older than me but I wouldn’t think that would make a big difference. Strange…

  11. Brent says:

    I grew up hearing the term jerry rigged and then learned about jury rigged as an adult. My impression is that jerry rigged has a more negative connotation–something done poorly in haste. The related term jerry built means shoddy or poorly constructed. Jury rigged seems to me to have a more positive connotation, meaning resourceful and inventive–similar to something McGuyver might do.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I’m 45 from St Louis and we say jimmy rigged to describe something that is poorly or improperly repaired but will make do. Today I heard someone also from the Midwest, Iowa I believe, say jerry rigged.

  13. Eerik says:

    I have always heard and used Jimmy.

  14. CJ says:

    Growing up in Utah, all I’ve ever heard is “Jimmy-Rigged”

  15. Amanda says:

    Jury comes from the Old French, “ajurie”, meaning relief or help.

  16. RW says:

    I am native Delawarean and we always use jimmy rig. We use the term for when we want to “get by” with something but can’t fix or change the problem. For instance, and this is only a simple example, a lamp setting on a carpet can lean sometimes so we jimmy rig it – meaning we put something under the foot of the lamp to make it appear level. We know there is something there under the foot but no one else knows it’s there.

  17. Jerry Riggs says:

    I used Jimmy rigged at 50 and my dad used it from the forty’s however I never heard jury rigged for anything other than a jury… maybe because I come from an Italian American side of things… ahem… However Jerry Rigged I also heard was adapted from WWII as a variation of Jimmy rigged. It is not “politically correct” to say it however there is also a derogatory term that was used by people all over the USA called N****r Riggin. It is what it is, or should say it was what it was.


  18. Anonymous says:

    Thank you

  19. Jason Tolerico says:

    Jimmy Rigged cause my dad would always say that.

  20. Trevor McCoy says:

    I’m a mechanic and I work with older guys who are… Let’s say ethnically different than me. They use a much more vulgar word and I always thought I just used Jimmy as substitute word or a filler word because I’m white. I didn’t know anyone else said it until I heard a customer say Jimmy rigged today and that’s why I just searched the origin. The Jerry rigged term from WWII makes alot if sense, because that’s kinda how we used it. Like we don’t have the correct parts, but we’ll get the job done one way or the other.

  21. Billi Buche says:

    I woke up from a nap and of all things I asked myself, “Is it jerry rigging or jimmy rigging?” (I have no life.) Anyway, I was born in 1945 in Oakland, CA. I googled the answer and found all of you! Wow, we all agree the term is old. I’m not sure, but I think I use them interchangeably. I love all the reasons and history of the term that you’ve all shared. Thank you. I’m going with Jimmy rigging. I think it’s has a positive connotation if it solves the immediate problem and a negative connotation if I’m paying for it:}

  22. Terri says:

    I grew up on the west coast and always used “jerry-rigged” (my father was in the airforce – not sure if that had anything to do with it). Now I use “MacGyvered” if it’s something particularly clever put together.

  23. Luke says:

    Im here as I just heard the term Jimmy rigged in the film ‘in the heart of the sea’ 2015 and had never heard it before. From the UK and have always used jerry

  24. Shelli says:

    I’m a military brat originally from MO. In 1989 I moved from AK to OK right before Desert Shield/Storm started.

    The first time I said “Jimmy-Rigged” to my OK best friend she looked at me like I had 2 heads. The next time she UNFORMED me that it was “Jerry-Rigged” and there was no such thing as “Jimmy-Rigged”.

    I started questioning myself, hoping that I could remember why I said the phrase “wrong”. Finally, I remembered a person I knew that “rigged” or “bush-fixed” everything instead of fixing something the “correct” way (AK remember… when the part you need won’t arrive for 6-8 weeks you learn to make due with what you have). In the end I decided that I had simply taken a well known phrase and changed Jerry to Jimmy because it was a group joke.

    Now, over 30 years later, I finally find out that it’s a North/South or East/West thing – like calling any carbinated beverage “Coke” instead of “Pepsi” or “Soda” instead of “Pop” (which I’ve been laughed at for saying both “Soda Pop” together – MO is a state where lines blur or they did when I was little). I wish I had reallized that both phrases being right was a possibility back then. I wouldn’t have felt so stupid and confused.

  25. Walter Weinzinger says:

    Growing up in Arizona, I’ve generally heard “jimmy-rigged” although I’ve heard the other two as well. To me, “jury” and “jerry” were too confusing so I’ve always used “jimmy-rigged” like most people use around here.

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