Jury rigging

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Jury rig)

Model showing a method for jury-rigging a rudder

In maritime transport terms, and most commonly in sailing, jury-rigged[1] is an adjective, a noun, and a verb. It can describe the actions of temporary makeshift running repairs made with only the tools and materials on board; and the subsequent results thereof. The origin of jury-rigged and jury-rigging lies in such efforts done on boats and ships, characteristically sail powered to begin with. Jury-rigging can be applied to any part of a ship; be it its super-structure (hull, decks), propulsion systems (mast, sails, rigging, engine, transmission, propeller), or controls (helm, rudder, centreboard, daggerboards, rigging).

Similarly, after a dismasting, a replacement mast, often referred to as a jury mast[2] (and if necessary, yard) would be fashioned, and stayed to allow a watercraft to resume making way.


The phrase 'jury-rigged' has been in use since at least 1788.[2] The adjectival use of 'jury', in the sense of makeshift or temporary, has been said to date from at least 1616, when according to the 1933 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, it appeared in John Smith's A Description of New England.[2] It appeared in Smith's more extensive The General History of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles published in 1624.[3]

Two theories about the origin of this usage of 'jury-rig' are:

  • A corruption of jury mast; i.e., a mast for the day, a temporary mast, being a spare used when the mast has been carried away. From French jour: 'a day'.[4]
  • From the Latin adjutare: 'to aid'; via Old French ajurie: 'help' or 'relief'.[5]


Three variations of the jury mast knot.

Depending on its size and purpose, a sail-powered boat may carry a limited amount of repair materials, from which some form of jury-rig can be fashioned. Additionally, anything salvageable, such as a spar or spinnaker pole, could be adapted to carrying a form of makeshift sail.

Ships typically carried a selection of spare parts, e.g., items such as topmasts. However, due to their much larger size, at up to 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) in diameter, the lower masts were too large to carry as spares. Example jury-rig configurations include:

The jury mast knot may provide anchor points for securing makeshift stays and shrouds to support a jury mast, although there is differing evidence of the knot's actual historical use.[6][7][8]

Jury-rigs are not limited to boats designed for sail propulsion. Any form of watercraft found without power can be adapted to carry jury sail as necessary. In addition, other essential components of a boat or ship, such as a rudder or tiller, can be said to be 'jury-rigged' when a repair is improvised out of materials at hand.[1]

Similar phrases[edit]

  • The compound word 'jerry-built', a similar but distinct term, referring to things 'built unsubstantially of bad materials', has a separate origin from jury-rigged. The exact etymology is unknown, but it is probably linked to earlier pejorative uses of the word 'jerry', attested as early as 1721, and may have been influenced by 'jury-rigged'.[9][10][11]
  • The American terms 'Afro engineering' (short for African engineering)[12] or 'nigger-rigging'[13] describes a fix that is temporary, done quickly, technically improperly, or without attention to or care for detail. It can also describe shoddy, second-rate workmanship, with whatever materials happen to be available.[14] 'Nigger-rigging' originated in the 1950s United States;[12] the term was euphemized as 'afro engineering' in the 1970s[13][15] and later again as 'ghetto rigging'. The terms have been used in the U.S. auto mechanic industry to describe quick makeshift repairs.[16] These phrases have largely fallen out of common usage due to their colloquial nature, but are occasionally used within the African-American community.[17][18][19][20]
  • To 'MacGyver' (or MacGyverize) something is to rig up something in a hurry using materials at hand, from the title character of the American television show of the same name, who specialized in such improvisation stunts.[21]
  • In New Zealand, having a 'Number 8 wire' mentality means to have the ability to make or repair something using any materials at hand, such as standard farm fencing wire.[22]

See also[edit]

  • Sailing ship accidents
  • Bricolage – creations from whatever happens to be available
  • Exaptation – a shift in the function of a trait during evolution
  • Rube Goldberg – an American cartoonist known for drawing complicated machines used for simple purposes
  • Heath Robinson – a British artist known for drawing complicated machines used for simple purposes
  • Jugaad – an Indian-based word for adopting innovative or simple fixes that may bend certain rules
  • Kludge – inelegant solutions that are difficult to maintain
  • MacGyver in popular culture
  • Repurposing
  • Robinsonade – a literary genre named after the novel Robinson Crusoe
  • Tofu-dreg project – a phrase used in Mainland China to describe a poorly constructed building
  • Upcycling – the transformation of waste into something usable for environmental preservation


  1. ^ a b "jury-rigged". www.Lexico.com. Oxford English Dictionary. 2022. Archived from the original on 23 January 2022. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  2. ^ a b c The Oxford English Dictionary, Volume V, H-K. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1933. p. 637, corrected reprinting 1966.
  3. ^ Smith, Captaine Iohn. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. London: Michael Sparkes., (2006, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) digital republication), p.223. (Online edition) Note that in the orthography of Early Modern English, 'J' was often written as 'I', thus the actual quote from Smith (1624) reads, "...we had re-accommodated a Iury-mast to returne for Plimoth...", corrected for modern parlance, "...we had re-accommodated a Jury-mast to return for Plymouth..."
  4. ^ E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
  5. ^ Barnhart, Robert K., ed. (1988). Barnhart dictionary of etymology. New York: H. W. Wilson Company. p. 560.
  6. ^ Hamel, Charles (August 2006) [September 2005]. "Investigations – nœud de capelage or jury rig knot". Charles.Hamel.free.fr. Charles Hamel. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  7. ^ Hamel, Charles (August 2006) [September 2005]. "Jury rig investigation – nœud de capelage jury rig mast knot is it only ornamental or utilitarian (with secondary evolution to ornamental)?". Charles.Hamel.free.fr. Charles Hamel. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  8. ^ Hamel, Charles (August 2006) [September 2005]. "Jury rig investigation 2 – nœud de capelage jury rig mast knot is it only ornamental or utilitarian (with secondary evolution to ornamental)?". Charles.Hamel.free.fr. Charles Hamel. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  9. ^ Israel, Mark (29 September 1997). "jerry-built" / "jury-rigged". www.Yaelf.com. alt.usage.english Word Origins FAQ. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  10. ^ William Morris; Mary Morris (1988). Morris Dictionary of Words and Phrase Origins, 2nd Edition. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 321–322.
  11. ^ Wilton, Dave. "jerry-built / jury rig". www.WordOrigins.org. Word Origins.org. Archived from the original on 19 September 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  12. ^ a b Green, Jonathan (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2 ed.). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 10, African engineering. ISBN 978-0-304-36636-1 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ a b Green, Jonathan (2005). Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2 ed.). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 1003, nigger rig n.; nigger rig v.; nigger rigged. ISBN 978-0-304-36636-1 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Partridge, Eric (2006). The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z. Taylor & Francis. p. 1370, nigger-rig. ISBN 978-0-415-25938-5 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Jackson, Shirley A. (2015). Routledge International Handbook of Race, Class, and Gender. Routledge. Intersections of discourse: Racetalk and class talk. ISBN 978-0-415-63271-3 – via Google Books. 'I can't even nigger-rig it.' ... 'The proper terminology is Afro-engineering.' Here, blackness is demarcated in a classed way. 'Nigger-rigging' is a quick, temporary fix to a problem, but it is a solution that is second rate to the 'right' way. ... declares that this type of knowledge is racialized and classed in a way that deems it inherently inferior. ... remarks remain unchallenged. Quite the opposite. ... implies that black ingenuity and innovation as sub-par and second rate to white ingenuity and innovation. ... affirms this with his response. By responding indirectly ... consents to this classed usage of the word nigger. Not only does this trivialize whether the slur's usage is inappropriate in the first place, but it equates 'nigger-rigging' with 'Afro-engineering'. ... denotes these terms as synonymous, thus imposing an even more classed meaning to this racial slur.
  16. ^ Poteet, Jim; Poteet, Lewis (1992). Car & Motorcycle Slang. toExcel an imprint of iUniverse.com Inc. p. 14, Afro engineering. ISBN 978-0-595-01080-6 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Eisiminger, Sterling K. (1991). The Consequence of Error and Other Language Essays. P. Lang. p. 327. ISBN 978-0-82041-472-0 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Aman, Reinhold (2005). Maledicta, Volume 3, Issue 2. Maledicta Press. Maledicta. p. 167, Afro engineering – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Green, Jonathon (1996). Words Apart: The Language of Prejudice. Kyle Cathie. pp. 59. ISBN 978-1-85626-216-3.
  20. ^ Droney, Damien (2014). "Ironies of Laboratory Work during Ghana's Second Age of Optimism". Cultural Anthropology. 29 (2). p. 363–384, Ironic Africa. doi:10.14506/ca29.2.10.
  21. ^ Rich, John (2006). Warm Up the Snake: a Hollywood Memoir. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. p. 167. ISBN 9780472115785. OCLC 67240539.
  22. ^ "Time to 'break free' of No 8 wire mentality". www.Stuff.co.nz. New Zealand: Stuff. 26 July 2012.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]