I ran into this construction this week: jerry-rigged. The writer meant a structure that had been improvised, but he had mixed up two terms: jerry-built and jury-rigged. I changed the phrase to jury-rigged.
Jerry-built applies to something that is poorly constructed or is made of cheap materials. So who is “Jerry” and how did he become associated with poor construction? The usage experts are not sure where the phrase comes from. This source suggests several possibilities. Jury-rigged comes from nautical use. World Wide Words explains both terms.
The thing to remember is that these terms are not interchangeable. As Paul Brians points out in his Common Errors, jerry-built always has a bad connotation, but jury-rigged can be admirable.
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.