Today’s tip: gibe, jibe and jive

I wish I could figure out an easy mnemonic to remember the difference between gibe and jibe. It helps to know the derivation of the words.

To gibe someone is to jeer or taunt him; a gibe (the noun) is a jeer. It comes from an Old French word giber, meaning to handle roughly. The first meanings of jibe have to do with changing a ship’s course, but to jibe can mean to be in accord with something. Jibe derives from a Dutch word gijpen that means to shift, as in shifting a ship’s sails.

Actually, gibe doesn’t come up that often, and jibe as the spelling for a jeer has gained some acceptance.

A more common mistake is confusing jibe and jive. Here is an example from a story I read recently:

The issue of child abduction is interesting if for no reason other than fact hardly jives with public perception.

I changed jives to jibes before the piece was published. To jive means to speak in an exaggerated, insincere way. The writer of this sentence meant jibes, to be in agreement with or to match.

The Mavens’ Word of the Day has a good explanation of gibe/jibe/jive.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.