Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

Thread: Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

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  1. #1
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    Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

    I have been told that the English vernacular phrase 'jerry-built,' meaning badly or cheaply constructed, originally came from 'Jerries' as slang for Germans (although the epithet seems to have lost that national association), and originated in late 19th C England when then-newly-unified Germany began to export cheap but affordable clocks.

    If true, the term recalls the earliest stages in the development of a nationally-based global-export industry that for generations has provided us with the finest quality, on down to our mouth-watering, modern-day Langes, Glashutte Originals, Stowas, Schauers and Dornblueths. If the etymology is true, what piquant irony survives behind the phrase!

    Might anyone confirm the origins?

  2. #2
    Moderator at Large stuffler,mike's Avatar
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    Re: Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

    As always with rumours, some information seems to be right, some other does not:

    Quoted from phrases uk:

    Meaning

    Built in a makeshift and insubstantial manner.
    Origin

    The phrase has been around since at least 1869, when it was defined in the Lonsdale Glossary:

    "Jerry-built, slightly, or unsubstantially built."

    By 1901, the term began to be used figuratively - a sure sign of acceptance into the general language. For example, The Daily Chronicle, in August that year printed this opinion:

    "In an age of jerry-built books it is refreshing to come across a volume that has taken forty years to compile."

    The derivation is unknown. What we do know is that the term has nothing to do with the UK slang term for German - Jerry/Gerry. This is of WWI origin and the citations above pre-date that. As always when a phrase's origin is unknown people like to guess, so here goes. It is possible that the term derives from the slang term jerrycummumble or jerrymumble. This was defined in the 1811 version of Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:

    "JERRYCUMMUMBLE. To shake, towzle, or tumble about."

    Some other guesses, although none of them appear to have any substantiating evidence, place the origin as:

    - The cheap, flimsy constructs of Jerry Brothers - a Liverpool building firm. (Note: I've not been able to confirm the existence of this company).

    - The walls of Jericho which, as everyone knows 'came tumbling down'.

    - The Romany word for excrement - 'gerry'.

    - A corruption of 'jury-rig' - although if that were the case we might expect to see some printed reference to 'jury-built' or 'jerry-rigged'. The former is unknown and citations of the latter all date from the 20th century.
    Kind regards
    Mike


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  3. #3
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    Re: Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

    splendid, thanks! I shall inform my watchmaker.

    Although I harbour a suspicion that 'jury-rig' comes from the days of sail, along the lines of the modern saw that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

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  5. #4
    Member hart-metall's Avatar
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    Re: Jerry-built, an horologically etymological question

    Based on the Merchandise Marks Act dated 1887, those identifications like "Made in Germany" were used to indicate products of allegedly minor quality - the British Empire thought about protecting itself against foreign products. Based on the fact, that after a certain time "Made in Germany" became a quality indicitator, it wasn't such a great idea... ok, during the wars it was an information for the customer, who did not want to buy goods of the country they were in war with... why do "freedom fries" come to my head...

    But to come back to the initial question: based on Mike's mentioned points my cousin (teaching english at our local university) tends to the last point with its connection to "jury-rig". This was in former times also used as a description of goods made with the tools and materials you had on hand - as you know by yourself, some interim solutions live forever... ;)

    In any case, it does not seem to have any connection to german watchmaking.

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