This week’s Not To Be Confused With… takes more bandwidth than usual. So, it’s a blog instead of a graphic.

This confusable triplet may not be part of your everyday conversation, but it’s familiar enough—and confused often enough—to warrant a post. Not only are the meanings of these terms bewildering to some, but the spellings are also inconsistent. To make matters worse, at least in this instance, Merriam Webster is not the most reliable source. I find the Oxford English Dictionary and Bryan Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage more helpful for these terms: gibe, jibe, jive.

Gibe is both a noun and a verb. Although the term may not be familiar, its use is all too common in today’s polarized world. If you spend much time on social media you may become immune to the insults, sarcastic, derogatory comments or taunts that flow through virtual space.

EX: The politician’s gibes entertained his base and riled his opponents.

EX: Helen had had enough of the twin’s incessant gibing and sent them to separate rooms.

Jibe is a verb with two distinct meanings.

  1. To be in agreement
  2. A nautical term that means to shift the sail on a ship. (To add to the confusion, in British English, it’s spelled gybe. Have I lost you yet?)

EX: What Harold read in the New York Times did not jibe with what he heard on Fox News.

EX: When we were learning to sail, it only took one good whack on the head for me to remember to duck whenever my husband jibed, and for him to remember to give loud and ample warning.

And then there’s jive—another type of speech. It, too, is both noun and verb. A relative newcomer to the English language, jive first appears in the American-English dictionary in the 1920s with two meanings. It is a style of jazz and dance music with origins in Africa. Jive also means to “deceive playfully” or “empty, misleading talk.” And it, too, is sometimes mistakenly used instead of jibe.

EX: The band’s program included an eclectic mix of styles that included salsa, jive, and African dance music.

EX: The comedians’ shucking and jiving kept the audience laughing for the full set.

So—how to keep it straight? Here’s a device that might help.

Gibe = a dig or derogatory comment (note the g’s).

Jibe = be in agreement

Jive = I’ve got nothin.’

Granted, in speech, who’s to know if you’re using gibe or jibe. But in writing, try to get it right.

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