Jive vs. Jibe: How to Choose the Right Word

Jive means dancing or phony talk; jibe means to agree with

jive dancing
A young dancer leaps into the air during a "jive" at the Jazz Band Ball in Hammersmith Palais, London, in 1951.

George Douglas/Getty Images

"Jibe" and "jive" are similar-sounding words, but their meanings are quite different. "Jibe" is the older version, probably from Dutch or Old English, most of the time meaning "agree with." "Jive," on the other hand, probably was coined by jazz musicians in the 1920s and means a wide variety of things, most prominently "untrustworthy," but also a style of dancing.

How to Use "Jive"

"Jive" has enormous versatility in American speech. As a noun, it means a dance performed to swing or jazz music, but it also means insincere, pretentious talk, or words meant to flatter or deceive. As an adjective, jive means "worthless, phony, contrived."

When used in the phrase "jive turkey," jive is an intensifier/modifier that increases the generally insulting cast of the word "turkey" (a dud, loser, or inept person) to "a lying dud, loser, or inept person." When "jive" is used to modify, however, as in "jive language," it refers admiringly to the inventive and highly stylized language of jazz music and musicians.

"Jive" first shows up in written form in the 1920s, but that doesn't mean it wasn't in use much earlier. The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests that it might have an African origin, coming from a West African Wolof word "jev" or "jeu" that means to talk about someone absent in a disparaging manner. It might also be that "jive" came directly from "jibe" and is a subtle, funny twist on the original meaning.

How to Use "Jibe"

"Jibe," on the other hand, has fewer meanings. As a verb, most of the time it means "to agree," but as a noun, it is a variant spelling of "gibe," meaning an aggressive, rude, or insulting remark. Most of the time, the verb "jibe" is paired with "not"—in other words, in the vernacular, you would not likely say "our ideas jibe," but you might say "our ideas don't seem to jibe."

"Jibe" probably derives from the Old English or Dutch word "gyb," which still has a specific meaning in sailing: to move back and forth and adjust to changing conditions of water and wind.

Examples

Here are some examples of sentences using "jibe" and "jive":

  • Our notions of the proper form of dancing at the prom do not jibe (agree)—you like country swing two-step, I like to jive (dance to swing or jazz).
  • That politician speaks nothing but jive (worthless information) these days, always making his opinions jibe (agree) with what the crowd wants to hear.
  • The company chairman's plans don't jibe (agree) with those of the rest of the board. To the rank-and-file workers, it's nothing but jive (phony information).

How to Remember the Difference

Here are some memory tricks that can help you decide whether "jibe" or "jive" is the correct choice:

  • If you're looking for a noun, "jive" is probably your only option. "Jibe," used correctly (not "gibe"), is always a verb, meaning to agree with.
  • Both words can be used as verbs, which can be confusing. It might help to remember that "jive" rhymes with "hive," a traditional term for great activity, which certainly describes jive dancing and, maybe, jive talking.

Sources:

"Jive." A Word A Day with Anu Garg. June 2009.

McRae, Rick. "'What Is Hip?' And Other Inquiries in Jazz Slang Lexicography"

"Jive: Jazz Slang." All About Jazz. March 4, 2004

"Jibe" and "Jive." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

"Jibe" and "Jive." Online Etymology Dictionary

"Jibe" and "Jive." Oxford Living Dictionaries

Stevens, Heidi. "Spell-Checker Busters." Chicago Tribune