Jive, Jibe, and Gibe: How to Choose the Right Word

Jive can mean dancing, jibe means to agree, gibe is an insult

jive dancing

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Jibe, jive, and gibe are similar-sounding words, but their meanings are quite different. Jibe is the older version, probably from Dutch or Old English, usually meaning to agree with. Jive probably was coined by jazz musicians in the 1920s and means a wide variety of things, often prominently "untrustworthy" but also a style of dancing. The origin of gibe is unclear, but the word means to jeer or taunt.

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 can mean insincere, pretentious talk, or words meant to flatter or deceive. As an adjective, jive means "worthless," "phony," or "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 otherwise used to modify, however, as in "jive language," it refers to the inventive, highly stylized language of jazz music and musicians.

Jive first appears 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 has fewer meanings. As a verb, it usually means to agree. It's often paired with with, to say, for example, that conclusions or budget figures jibe (agree) or don't jibe (disagree). It also is a variant spelling of gibe.

Jibe probably derives from the Old English or Dutch word gyb, which relates to another modern use of the term: In sailing, jibe means to move back and forth and adjust to changing conditions of water and wind.

How to Use 'Gibe'

To gibe, which is pronounced exactly the same as jibe, is to taunt or jeer. It also can be used as a noun to mean a taunt. Its origin is unsure, but it possibly derived from an Old French word meaning to handle roughly.

Examples

Here are examples of how to use jibe, jive, and gibe to mean to agree, a dance, a taunt, or other things:

  • Our notions of the proper form of dancing at the prom don't jibe, since you like country swing two-step and I like to jive. In this example, jibe means to agree, while jive means dancing to swing or jazz.
  • That politician speaks nothing but jive these days, always making sure that his opinions jibe with what the particular crowd wants to hear. Here jive means worthless or phony and jibe means to agree.
  • She loved hanging out with jazz musicians because she had learned to understand their jive terms about their business. Here jive means the language of jazz musicians.
  • Bill was becoming excited about his sailing lessons because he was finally learning how to jibe. In this example jibe refers to a sailing maneuver for changing the course of the boat.
  • Sam was getting tired of his colleague's constant insults and jibes. Jibes here means taunts or jeers.

How to Remember the Difference

Gibe has a very specific meaning: an insult. Here are some memory tricks to help you decide whether your choice between jibe and jive jibes with that of the experts:

  • If you're looking for a noun, jive is probably your only option. Jibe is almost 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, which usually refers to something lively, rhymes with hive, a term that conjures up scenes of great activity drawn from the stereotypical image of a busy beehive—which certainly describes jive dancing and, maybe, jive talking.

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