Sunday, March 26, 2017


At a recent all-day training session, I was fortunate to be seated next to a charming, and interesting, witty conversationalist.   Before the meeting and during breaks we found we had a great deal in common.  We began trading whispered comments and notes during the presentations.  

One of the instructors used the term "jive" when it clearly should have been "gibe";  the instructor was an attorney and one could assume he was educated and should have known the difference.  I jotted down "GIBE!" and my fellow-attendee jotted down "JIBE?" beside my note.

Thus began stream-of consciousness repartee between her and me.

She wrote:  "JIVE Talkin'!".    I jotted down "GIBBS!".  After my reference to the Bee Gees, she jotted down "NCIS", a reference to Mark Harmon's character's name on the series.

The back-and-forth competition began:

BARRY, ROBIN, MAURICE (with names of various people with those names)

JIVE TURKEY with a small drawing by her.

SHUCKIN' AND JIVIN' with several comments.

She wrote:  "JIBE THE MAIN SAIL" followed by my note: "See how the main sail sets'' with her question:  "Huh?"  I wrote:   "That's from Sloop John B."  followed by her question "Beach Boys?",  with my answer, "No, The Weavers."  She wrote "Lemme go home!"  I wrote, "I'll call the captain ashore!"

During the break, I wondered aloud to her, "Should we tell him?"  She answered, "Yeah, YOU tell him it just doesn't JIBE;  that he needs to cut out all that JIVE, or you'll GIBE at him!"

See the article below from Grammarphobia:

Jibe, gibe, and jive

Q: I see both “jibe” and “jive” used to mean agree, as in “His testimony did not jibe/jive with what he said earlier.” As a sailor, I know “jibe” refers to changing tack while sailing downwind. “Jive,” on the other hand, refers to deceptive talk. How on earth did we get from point A to point B here?

A: We’re dealing with three similar-sounding words: “jibe,” “gibe,” and “jive.” That’s confusing enough.

To muddle things more, dictionaries recognize “jibe” and “gibe” as variant spellings of each other. And the nautical word for changing tack is spelled “jibe” in the US and “gybe” in the UK.

If you’re still with us, there are two more flies in the ointment. The verb “jibe” has a second meaning, primarily in American English: to agree.

And as you’ve noticed, “jive” is often used for “jibe” in the sense of agreement, though no authoritative dictionary considers this usage standard English.

To get to the bottom of all this, let’s begin with some definitions.

The verb “jibe,” as you say, is a nautical term that refers to changing course by shifting a fore-and-aft sail from side to side while sailing before the wind. (Remember, British dictionaries spell the word “gybe.”)

However, “jibe” has another meaning that’s not etymologically related to the nautical usage: to agree or be consistent with, as in, “Those figures don’t jibe.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes this usage as “chiefly U.S.”

The word “jive” can be either a noun or a verb, as in “Don’t give me that jive” or “Don’t jive me.” It’s a Jazz Era slang term that usually refers to deceptive or nonsensical talk, though it can also mean jazz music.

A third word that’s often confused with these, “gibe,” is both a noun and a verb referring to teasing, taunting, or caustic remarks, as in “Ignore his rude gibes” or “He tends to gibe when he’s annoyed.”

These three words cover a lot of etymological history, so let’s take a look at their origins. (We’ll discuss them in order of seniority, saving “jive” for last.)

The oldest is the verb “gibe,” first recorded in the mid-16th century. The OED says to “gibe” is “to speak sneeringly; to utter taunts; to jeer, flout, scoff.”

As we’ve said, the nautical “jibe” is not related to the agreeable “jibe,” which first showed up in American English in the early 1800s, meaning “to chime in (with); to be in harmony or accord; to agree,” to quote the OED.

This leaves us with “jive,” a term of unknown origin that showed up—both noun and verb— in American slang in the Roaring Twenties. It has close associations with jazz, Harlem, and black American English.

The OED defines the verb as meaning “to mislead, to deceive, to ‘kid’; to taunt or sneer at.” To “talk jive,” Oxford adds, is “to talk nonsense, to act foolishly.”

And the noun “jive” is defined similarly: “talk or conversation; spec. talk that is misleading, untrue, empty, or pretentious; hence, anything false, worthless, or unpleasant.”

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