I’ve always admired some people’s ability to jerry-rig.
Jerry-rigging is the act of performing makeshift repairs with the tools and supplies one has on hand. A jerry-rigged repair is usually considered temporary, at least in theory, but more often than not ends up left as a permanent fix. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it at some point. Who hasn’t used a dime as a screwdriver to avoid going all the way down into the basement? Or strung their kid’s shoes with twine, the end made smooth with tape for easy threading, only to remember three weeks later that you never did remember to buy shoelaces and now the kid has outgrown the shoes?
Some people, however, make jerry-rigging into an art form. What they did is just plain wrong, but also impressive. You open a wall in your house, for example, that hasn’t seen the light of day since the 1970s, and discover your entire kitchen has been powered by extension cords for the past half-century. You’re horrified, but can’t help but whistle in admiration.
Just because someone jerry-rigs something doesn’t mean it’s dangerous, of course. Sometimes it’s just … not super classy. I knew someone who fixed their showerhead with a plastic water bottle. The showerhead was old or gummed up or something, so only sprayed one long, heavy stream of water. She described it as “showering under a garden hose.” She couldn’t convince her landlord to replace it, so she poked a bunch of tiny holes in the base of a water bottle and duct-taped the bottle over the older showerhead. It worked like a charm, so it stayed. I was young and impressionable at the time, and suitably impressed. (Though in all honesty, now that I’m middle-aged and much more difficult to impress, I’m still impressed.) I never would have thought to “fix it” without actually “fixing it.” Jerry-rigging is something I’m just not able to do in an admirable way.
The ability to jerry-rig is obviously not an inherited trait, as one of my sons unabashedly jerry-rigs just about anything that goes wrong with his car. A headlight no longer dangles by a thread because it’s duct-taped to the car. Bungee cords keep the trunk from flying open. More duct tape lines the seats, the bumper and part of a side mirror. It’s so held together with duct tape and bungee cords that it’s either a complete embarrassment or a source of pride, depending on one’s feelings towards jerry-rigging. Either way, I dare anyone to look at this thing and not shake their head with at least a small twinge of admiration.
Even the word itself seems to be jerry-rigged. Have you ever wondered where the word came from? It makes little sense. Did a guy named Jerry or Jeremiah have a reputation for questionable fixes? It turns out … yes. Maybe. There is no definitive proof, but my brief online search indicates that might have been what contributed to the term.
The phrase was originally “jury-rigged,” which was strictly a nautical term. It was used in a similar context — to fix in a makeshift fashion — but only regarding a boat. Later on in the 1800s, the term “Jerry-built” was used in England to indicate something was built in an insubstantial manner. This is where the poor chap named Jerry might have come in. Eventually, by the late 19th century, the mash-up “jerry-rigged” came into existence.
There’s nothing like jerry-rigging two phrases to create the word jerry-rig. It’s a beautiful use of words, really.
I’m not good at jerry-rigging. I just don’t think creatively in that manner. But I will always be one of those people who places their hands on their hips, clucks their tongue, and says “Well. Isn’t that impressive.” So carry on, jerry-riggers. In my mind, you’re holding the world together.
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer and editor who lives and works in Duluth. Write to her at email@example.com.