Friday, December 26, 2014

No, It's Not Jerry-Rigged

I woke up the other day thinking of the term "jerry-rigged." I immediately wondered if I had that right; wasn't it actually jury-rigged and what was the deal with all of that anyway?

Well, it turns out there are two terms: jury-rigged and jerry-built. The former comes from sailing (something to do with improvised rigging on the jury mast), while the latter's origins are a bit mysterious, though it doesn't mean improvised so much as intentionally made from cheap materials. It isn't a World War I- or II-era anti-German slur either, since it arose in the 19th century.

Kludge has a similar meaning to jury-rigged, though from a completely different walk of life. Sometime around 1960, it came to be used in the computer industry to mean an inelegant, improvised solution, originally in hardware but later in software as well. Sometimes it's spelled with a "d" and sometimes without, sometimes pronounced klooj and others kludge (rhymes with fudge).

Rube Goldberg designs, on the other hand, are intentionally made to be overly complex, sometimes improvised or from found materials, but not necessarily.

Four unrelated terms for ways to make things, all added to English in the past 150 or so years. What a language.

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