It’s humbling for a self-professed word nymph to discover a flaw in her understanding of a word (though I deliberately chose “nymph” as a symbol of a work in progress).
Once and again, we all say or spell a word we think is correct for its context, only to learn we’re a letter or syllable off. It’s even more humbling, then, to find additional word mistakes in our quest to learn more about the first one.
I’m betting most of you know this one. I didn’t until last weekend.
In the past, when I referred to a process wherein things are constructed or repaired using only the limited resources available, I said “jerry-rigged.” Or maybe I thought it was gerry-rigged. Or geri-rigged or maybe jeri-rigged. I don’t think I’ve ever spelled it, but I know now I’ve mispronounced it.
On Saturday, The Washington Post referred to the painful process of cobbling together a federal budget compromise:
“When a frantic week ended, Washington still had no Plan A: a proposal that might give both Republicans and Democrats the things they want most.
“Instead, there was only a jury-rigged and unpopular Plan B.”
Jury rigged? Hmm. I didn’t know that, but later learned that jury rigging (no Casey Anthony jokes) is a sailing term.
Wikipedia cautions us to not confuse jury rigging with jury tampering, not that such a temptation perked in my mind. Further, Wiki explains that “The phrase “jury rigged” has been in use since at least 1788.” Who knew? Not I.
It goes on to explain that “the adjectival use of ‘jury’ in the sense of makeshift or temporary dates from at least 1616, when it appeared in John Smith’s A Description of New England” and lays out several theories about the origin of this usage.
Webster’s honors “jerry-rigged” as “organized or constructed in a crude or improvised manner,” having first come into use in 1959, suggesting also it might have sprung from “jerry-built,” a term with which I am unfamiliar.
Urban Dictionary explains that “jerry” has come to refer to something that is bad or defective: “a pejorative use of the male nickname Jerry.” Jerry as a pejorative? I didn’t know this either; did you?
All the while I was poring over these contemporary sources, what was really lingering in the back of my mind was Michael Jackson’s 1980s jeri curl.
Wouldn’t you know, it’s actually a Jheri curl?
On the subject of all things jury, jerry or Jheri, I’m oh for three. Sometimes nymphs have days like this.