tr.v. ju·ry-rigged, ju·ry-rig·ging, ju·ry-rigs
To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear.
[From jury-rig, jury-rigging, improvised rigging on a ship, modeled on jury-mast, temporary mast, perhaps ultimately from Old French ajurie, help, from aider, to help; see AID.]
Usage Note: Traditionally, to jury-rig means "to assemble for temporary, emergency use; to improvise," whereas to jerry-build means "to build shoddily, flimsily, and cheaply." The connotations are different, with jury-rig emphasizing the impromptu nature of the construction and jerry-build its inferior nature. Because improvised construction is often shoddy, however, the words are sometimes conflated in common usage, and sometimes combined into the hybrid jerry-rig. In our 2015 survey, the Usage Panel slightly preferred jerry-rig to jury-rig in a sentence involving improvised construction, but they appear to feel strongly that jerry-build implies shoddiness rather than improvisation: only 19 percent accepted After the earthquake, people jerry-built ingenious devices for cooking and washing. A careful writer will use jury-rig or jerry-rig for improvised contraptions and jerry-build for shoddy ones, but because of the potential for confusion, one should also make sure that the meaning is clear in context before using any of these terms.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.