What Does Jury Rigged Mean?

"Jury rigged" has nothing to do with courtrooms or jurors. Instead, it comes from sailing.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read

You’ve probably heard of something being jury-rigged.

That means patched together in a temporary manner. 

For example, is the rear fender of your car held on with duct tape? Are the batteries in your remote kept in place with a rubber band? If so, they’ve been jury-rigged

But what does rigged mean? And how does a jury get involved?

Turns out, one doesn’t.

The word jury in this phrase has nothing to do with people sitting in a courtroom, deciding on guilt or innocence. 

Jury is a nautical term. It's a temporary mast put up on a sailing vessel.

Rather, jury is a nautical term. It means a temporary mast put up on a sailing vessel.

Imagine an old-fashioned ship with three masts, like the U.S.S. Constitution. The Constitution’s mainmast—the one in the middle—is 220 feet tall. That’s taller than a 15-story building! Ships can’t exactly carry extras of those on board.

If a mast like that were broken in a battle or a storm, the ship’s carpenter would be in a pinch. He’d have to cobble together a replacement out of whatever materials he had on board.

The jury mast he made would then be rigged up; that is, placed into position in the center of the deck.

By the way, the origin of the term jury in this phrase is unknown. It may come from the Old French ajurie, which means aid. But that’s not certain.

And, that’s your tidbit for today. If something’s jury-rigged, it’s put together hastily, in a makeshift manner. 

In case you're wondering, here's the difference between "jury-rigged" and "jerry-rigged."

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

What does jury rigged mean?

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.