Jam and Jamb

Commonly Confused Words

The words jam and jamb are homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). As both a noun and a verb, jam has several different definitions. As shown below, the less-common noun jamb is usually used in a more technical sense.

As a noun, jam refers to a jelly made from fruit and sugar, a difficult situation, an instance of becoming trapped or stuck, or a group of people or objects that are crowded together.

As a verb, jam means to squeeze tightly into a space, shove something into position, become stuck, or form a crowd.

The noun jamb usually refers to a vertical piece on either side of a framed opening, as for a door, window, or fireplace.

Examples

  • "We spread the jam on chunks of delicious fresh bread, and the mellifluous elixir made me feel as if I were eating the smell of roses."
    (Celia Lyttelton, The Scent Trail. New American Library, 2007)
  • "You're so transparent. You're trying to use me for a shovel to dig yourself out of a jam."
    (Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister, 1949)
  • "As often as not in a jam session—at least in the context of swing, if not in bebop—the musicians were improvising in response to an audience as much as to one another."
    (John Fass Morton, Backstory in Blue: Ellington at Newport '56. Rutgers University Press, 2008)
  • "He tried to jam the gun back into the holster, but with its silencer it didn't quite fit."
    (Robin Cook, Blindsight. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1992)
  • "I followed his advice and wedged the iron between the door and the jamb and leaned into it. A chunk of wood splintered off the jamb and some metal stripping pulled away."
    (Janet Evanovich, High Five. St. Martin's Press, 1999)

Usage Notes

  • "The upright pillars on which a door is hung we call a jamb. If you catch your finger between the door and this pillar, we do not say you jamb your finger but you jam your finger. The b has fallen away, although the latter word owes its existence to the former."
    (Mont Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform. Manchester University Press, 1965)
  • "A jam can be a static or slow-moving collection of objects or people. You normally get a traffic jam at rush hour, a jam of people when the sales open, or a jam-packed spare room when you are paranoid about throwing anything away. Jam is also a sticky substance composed of fruit and sugar that is often smeared on bread to make a sandwich. This usage came into being in the mid-eighteenth century. A jam session is an improvised performance by a group of jazz musicians, a usage that dates from the 1920s. If you jam on the brakes of your car, you stop very abruptly. A jamb is the leg of an animal represented on a coat of arms, the leg piece from a suit of armour, each of the side posts of a door, a bed of clay or stone running across a mineral vein or seam, and a projecting columnar part of a wall."
    (David Rothwell, Dictionary of Homonyms. Wordsworth, 2007)

Practice

(a) "Jamie had bought something called a baby bungee, an apparatus that gripped on to the _____ of a door and allowed the child to bounce up and down on a strong elastic rope."
(Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost Art of Gratitude. Knopf Canada, 2009)

(b) "Conway could get himself into a _____ by saying too much, while Bozeman's problem is usually that he doesn't say nearly enough."
(Gary Rivlin, The Godfather of Silicon Valley.

Random House, 2001)

(c) "The day of his sixth birthday, Mother baked a cake, a special one with raspberry _____ dripping down the sides."
(Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden. Simon & Schuster, 1998)

(d) "It had taken three tries before she managed to _____ the key into her lock."
(Margaret Coel, The Perfect Suspect. Berkley, 2011)

Answers

(a) "Jamie had bought something called a baby bungee, an apparatus that gripped on to the jamb of a door and allowed the child to bounce up and down on a strong elastic rope."
(Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost Art of Gratitude. Knopf Canada, 2009)

(b) "Conway could get himself into a jam by saying too much, while Bozeman's problem is usually that he doesn't say nearly enough."
(Gary Rivlin, The Godfather of Silicon Valley. Random House, 2001)

(c) "The day of his sixth birthday, Mother baked a cake, a special one with raspberry jam dripping down the sides."
(Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden.

Simon & Schuster, 1998)

(d) "It had taken three tries before she managed to jam the key into her lock."
(Margaret Coel, The Perfect Suspect. Berkley, 2011)
 

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Jam and Jamb." ThoughtCo, Apr. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/jam-and-jamb-1689428. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 14). Jam and Jamb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/jam-and-jamb-1689428 Nordquist, Richard. "Jam and Jamb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/jam-and-jamb-1689428 (accessed May 22, 2018).