March 10th, 2004
The Rudys or the Rudy's? / jury-rigged or jerry-rigged?
by Barbara Wallraff
Linda Rudy, of Warren, Mich., writes, “If I have a sign made to hang outside our house indicating our family name, should it read ‘The Rudys’ or ‘The Rudy’s’? I’ve seen it both ways, and it doesn’t look right to me either way.”
Bless you for asking and not just getting a sign made any which way, as if the difference between a plural and a possessive didn’t matter. One Rudy, two Rudys, three Rudys … the sign should read “The Rudys.” Never mind that the house is in your family’s possession. The way to indicate that would be with a plural possessive, in which the apostrophe would come after the s: “The Rudys.’” But nobody punctuates signs that way. The idea of “The Rudys” is that the Rudys live here.
Joseph Deck, of Somerville, Mass., writes, “I find ‘jury-rigged’ appearing where ‘jerry-rigged’ seems to be meant. I’ve always understood ‘jury-rigged’ to have a literal meaning and closely related metaphorical ones—that is, tampering with a jury or other some legitimate process so that the result is preordained, corrupt, and usually nefarious. ‘Jerry-rigged’ describes something urgently cobbled together. It incorporates a World War II cultural slur, ‘Jerry’ for German, and so, I assume, originated as a sneering British and American reference to German engineering inadequacy.”
The story you tell makes a lot more sense than the truth—but here’s the truth about these words, or as much of it as is known:
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.